Outside the Box: Pentatonic Shapes

The pentatonic scale and its five boxes are powerful, because the patterns are simple to learn and easy to apply quickly. The basic minor box (#1) is the first pattern many players memorize:


The intervals for the minor pentatonic scale are R(root)-b3-4-5-b7, the notes (in the key of A minor) are A-C-D-E-G. While this shape is the easiest of the five boxes to learn and apply quickly, as luck would have it, there’s an even easier pentatonic shape. If you start from the b7 instead of the root, you get a simple two-string shape:


Use the fingering as shown below:


Work the shape, ascending and descending, using strict alternate picking, until it’s smooth and even. It shouldn’t take long before you can nail this at a fairly high speed:


You can probably already see where this shape lies an octave higher, and two octaves higher. Linking all three octaves together provides a cool way to navigate quickly and melodically up the neck with little difficulty.


Even though the shape starts on the 7th of the scale and ends on the 5th, you can play it as is over an A minor (or C major) progression, and hear how it locks right in melodically. Beginning and ending phrases on scale degrees other than the root or 5th can produce some interesting ideas.

For this extended shape, use the fingering suggested below, just the 1st and 3rd fingers, sliding up from the 4th degree of the scale to the 5th in each octave. This will facilitate quick fretboard navigation, and give a smoother, more even sound.



Check out this quick sextuplet lick that weaves back and forth through the scale:


Remember to work the shapes ascending and descending, in as many keys as you can, and come up with sequences of your own. The next post will take a look at how major and minor scales can be mapped for better navigation as well.

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