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2 Techniques to Make Your Pentatonic Lines More Sophisticated

March 6, 2014 by Blog, Technique No Comments

Let’s face it. Pentatonic’s, whether used in blues or rock can sound pretty tired. Regardless of the speed or patterns being played, Pentatonics can sound like the “same old, same old”.

Here is a quick trick, I usually teach when I am giving jazz guitar lessons, that will add a tremendous amount of interest and color to your basic pentatonic scales. I’m talking about the addition of chromatics.

However, chromatics cannot be added indiscriminately. There is a secret you will need to know in order to make this technique work. The good news is… it is extremely simple, especially for guitarists!

In order for this technique to work, you will need to visualize one specific fingering for the pentatonic. Choose a fingering you are extremely comfortable with.

Okay, let’s begin adding chromatics…

First, consider the fact that the fingering you have chosen is the “scaffolding” on which you will build your chromatic line. Be certain that you can visualize your chosen pentatonic fingering away from the guitar. Mastering this visualization is critical to making this technique work.

Technique 1

Adding lower neighbor notes:
Lower neighbor notes are defined as pitches which lie one half step below a scale tone. These are “chromatic approach notes” and are really simple to use on guitar!
-To master this technique, practice your pentatonic scale and add one half step below each scale tone.
-After practicing this technique, avoid using ALL lower neighbor notes.
Consider lower neighbor notes to be “colors” which you may add to the “scaffolding” of your pentatonic scale.
-Try starting a lick using the lower neighbor note. Alternatively, try adding 1 or 2 lower neighbor notes mid-phrase, right in the center of one of your favorite licks.
You will find this technique will add a jazz-like flavor to your tired blues or rock licks.

Technique 2

Creating longer lines with chromatics:
Now that you are able to clearly visualize the pentatonic scaffolding, this next technique should seem simple!
-In order to find success with this technique, you must start and end on a pitch from the original pentatonic scale (“the scaffolding”).
Use chromatics to move from one scale tone to another.
-Don’t think of these as a simple hammer ons or pull offs. Instead, try starting or ending the phrase using this technique to “fill in the blanks” between notes of the pentatonic scaffolding.

-Although lower neighbor notes and chromatic “fill-in the blanks” chromatics appear similar to us as guitarists due to the ease with which we can visualize our original scale, the experience of these 2 techniques are entirely different on the ear.

Here is a pretty good example and lesson on using chromatics in your blues playing.


So, to recap:

The 2 techniques presented here should not create a wash of chromatic sound! Each time a chromatic is used, it helps to point to notes of the original scale, thus emphasizing the original nature of the pentatonic. This is exactly why these techniques work so great for both blues and rock playing. They still retain the original shape of the pentatonic scale while adding some very hip notes!

Jazzers have been using these techniques since the 1940s.

Well, now you know the secret! Try these out and see what they are able to add to your lines. Happy hunting

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