Pentatonic scales are a great way to start learning how to improvise and create melodies over chord progressions. Because pentatonic scales are simple - just 5 notes, they are a good starting point for learning improvisation.
In this lesson, you will learn :
By the end of this lesson you will have a good understanding of how to use major pentatonic scales to solo over common chord progressions like the blues.
Let's take a look at how to learn pentatonic scales and improve your jazz guitar playing.
How to learn scales for jazz guitar
Before we dive in to the scales, let's talk about how to learn them efficiently. There are some steps I like to take to make sure my students learn their scales correctly the first time. When you are confident that you know how to play your scales, it makes it easier to improvise when you are playing jazz guitar.
Here are 3 things to think about when you are learning a new scale or finger pattern:
Build the scale one string at a time
I like to start with the 6th string, and play back and forth using just the notes found on that string. (In our case, just 2 notes). Once you feel comfortable with that, add the 5th string. This process continues until you can play the scale across all 6 strings of the guitar.
Improvise to learn the scale
Throughout the process of learning the scale, you should be improvising. I learned a long time ago that I remember scales and patterns best when I can create something with them. So as you add strings to your scale pattern, try to create melodies and come up with musical ideas.
Once you can play the entire scale, continue to improvise. The more you explore the scale and the sounds you can make with it, the easier it will be for you to improvise when playing jazz guitar. You will learn the scale better by playing creatively with it than you will by playing the scale up and down.
Go slow to learn fast
I tell this to all of my students at some point. Go slower than you want to at first (maybe way slower than you want to). When you take the time to make sure you are always playing the notes you intend to play, you are reinforcing those notes in your ears, your brain, and your muscle memory.
While this is creative practicing, it is still practicing - you are still working on learning a specific skill.
Major pentatonic finger patterns
6th string pattern
We'll start by looking at the 6th string scale pattern. I call it the 6th string shape because I find the root of the scale on the 6th string. (The root is the note that gives a scale its name)
You'll notice that more than one note is marked red as a root note. That's OK. The one we are concerned with is the one on the 6th string at the far left of the diagram.
There are 5 unique notes in this scale: 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. These numbers represent the interval of each note of the scale. I refer to these numbers as scale tones or scale degrees.
It is important to memorize the scale tones as you practice because it will help you develop the relationship between your ears and the guitar.
Get in the habit of thinking in scale tones - it will become much more important when we get to learning the major scale and talking about playing through chord changes.
Possible finger patterns
There are 2 practical finger patterns to use when playing this scale. They both have pros and cons, and it is up to you to decide which way feels the most natural for your playing.
Over time, you will probably end up using both - so don't fall into the trap of deciding there is only one way to do it!
This is one possible fingering pattern you could use to play this scale. The numbers represent the fingers of your fret hand:
The main benefit to this finger pattern is that each finger gets its own fret. This way it is easy to keep track of where you are on the fretboard and make sure you stay in the right key.
The main downside of this finger pattern is that for many people, using the little finger (4) isn't very comfortable. It tends to be the least developed of the fret hand fingers.
That being said, this is the way I prefer to play these scale shapes.
This is another way to organize your finger pattern. If you really don't like using your 4th finger, this is a god way to play your pentatonic scales.
The main benefit of this finger pattern is that by using primarily the first and third fingers, you eliminate the need to use your fourth finger.
The biggest downside of this finger pattern is that unless your hands are very flexible, you will have to move your hand a little bit as you play through the scale.
It's not a huge problem, but it will take a little more effort to make sure you are playing all the right notes at first.
As I said earlier, you will probably end up using both of these scale fingerings at some point, so spend a little time getting used to each. You will naturally gravitate towards the one that is most comfortable for you.
Here is an example of how to practice this scale using both TAB and standard notation. Use the fingering pattern that feels the most comfortable to you.
5th string pattern
Now let's take a look at the 5th string scale pattern. I call this the 5th string pattern because I find the root on the 5th string.
(Once again, there is also a root on the 3rd string. We just locate this pattern by the root on the 5th.)
Since the root is not the lowest possible note in this finger pattern, it is even more important to get into the habit of thinking in scale tones.
Keep track of what number you are on as you play - It will help you develop your ears to recognize this scale.
Possible finger patterns
Just like with the 6th string shape, there are two logical ways to play this finger pattern. Take a look at the 2 patterns below and figure out which one is the most comfortable for you.
Keep in mind that you will probably find both patterns useful at different times, so don't write off either one.
Just as before, the major difference between fingering pattern #1 and fingering pattern #2 is that pattern 1 uses the little finger, and pattern 2 uses a stretch between the 1st and 3rd fingers.
Take the time to figure out which fingering pattern is the best fit for you. Remember that there is no "right" way to do this, and you will probably end up using a little bit of both patterns, depending on the musical situation.
Here is an example of how to play this scale pattern. With scale patterns that don't have the root as the lowest possible root, I like to start on the root anyway. Play up the scale as far as you can, down the scale as far as you can, and then back to the root. See the example below.
Learning these scales will help you start improvising jazz guitar solos. Practice these scales all over the neck, in all 12 keys. Getting the scale patterns into your muscle memory is an important first step.
Once you can play the scales without looking at the scale diagrams, start improvising as much as you can. You can use backing tracks, or just improvise freely. The main point is that you should be playing with the scale and coming up with melodies that sound good to you.
In a future lesson, we will look at how to use these scales to start playing jazz guitar solos on the blues.
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