Making Sense Of The Pentatonic Scale – Diagonal Forms – Part One

Hello everyone!! After a lengthy delay – I’m posting this pentatonic lesson.  The amount of information over the next few posts will keep some of you busy for a while.

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A general online lesson note:

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The lessons I post here typically go into quite a bit of detail with the rationale that the reader (i.e. you) can take bite sized pieces of information and return to the material as needed.  If this more information than you will probably be able to process in a single setting, simply take one or two things that sound cool to you and apply them to what you’re currently playing (songs, solos, etc).

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One idea applied well is worth more than a dozen ideas applied poorly.

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In this lesson I’m going to combine 2-string pentatonic patterns into a diagonal approach.

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Note: For those of you who want to adapt these ideas to the blues scale just add in the A#/Bb to the patterns listed below.

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Diagonal Pentatonics

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Playing two-string patterns in octaves moves the fretboard shape both horizontally and vertically (i.e. diagonally). Two-string diagonal playing can help with visualization as the same pattern is simply moved to the octave of the starting pitch.

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To illustrate this – I’ll start with the following four-note shapes.  Use alternate picking for all of the following exercises.  With the exception of the first four notes which use open position, the rest of the patterns use the same fingering.

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All of the following examples should be practiced with strict alternate picking or legato (i.e. using hammer-ons and pull offs) and (ideally) played over a chord to supply a harmonic context.

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Some chords to try:

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  • E minor or Em 7 chord 
  • C Major 7
  • G Major 7
  • F Major 7 
  • D minor 7 
  • A minor 7 or
  • whatever sounds good to you!

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Here’s the 1st pattern moved in octaves.

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Pattern # 2

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Pattern # 3

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Pattern # 4

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Pattern # 5

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Working with patterns

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Note:

Pentatonic scales, or any kind of scale in general, are simply a tool in making music, but are not music in and of themselves.  The goal of this process is to use these shapes as a way to visualize sounds and then to be able to manipulate them in real-time.

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Let’s generate a musical line using this approach. Here’s an idea in the style of Paul Gilbert.  I’m picking every note in the example – but you could use hammer-ons or pull offs for a more legato feel.  It’s played first with sextuplets and then slower at 16th notes to make the notes easier easier to hear.

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The drums on this track are just a simple loop I pulled together for a song I was working on called Raga Jam.

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While recorded at 105 bpm – the  mp3 can be downloaded and then slowed down or sped up to accommodate your tempo needs.  A number of applications will do this but if you’re looking for a recommendation –  I recommend Transcribe! by Seventh String Software.

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There are several ideas here worth exploiting.

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  • The initial pattern consisting of four notes, is played as sextuplets (groups of six).  Rhythmically, this adds a sense of tension that is absent in phrasing the group of four notes into a 1/16 note pattern.  This idea will be covered more in part two of this lesson.

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In general, practice playing patterns in a variety of rhythms as you may find ideas you can use later.


  • The B on beat three breaks up the predictable note order a little.  It’s a small variation on the pattern that makes it sound a little less “patternish”.
  • The last five notes of the sextuplet break the four note melodic pattern.  This idea will be explored more in part 2. But in the meantime, here’s an initial fingering to get you going.  I’ve notated it as a group of 5 – But rhythmically it’s part of the sextuplet pattern above.

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The use of the open E and A strings changes the overall fingering shape on the bottom, middle and top two strings which may make the lick more challenging to play.  

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If you are having difficulty playing something melodically, take a close look at the fingering you’re using and see if it’s the most efficient one.

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In the example below, I’ve taken the same notes and broken them up into melodic shapes that use the G, A and B pitches on the same string.  You will probably find this much easier to play.

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Here’s a fingering variation of the above idea (watch the skip from G to B on the D string!)

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Going a little further:

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Sometimes patterns can lead us to unexpected melodic places.  Here,  in this approximation of an improvisation for example,

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  • I’ve taken the initial E, G, A and B pattern shape and instead of moving it up a 1/2 step, (to accommodate the B/G string 3rds tuning), I kept the fingering shape the same.  This produces a whole tone shape on the B string that adds a melodic surprise.
  • I’ve then continued the whole tone idea to the high E string  – bringing in a C and then resolving it to B (The 7th fret B is missing in the tab but is on the notation line). The whole steps in the F#, G# and A# passage and the C, D and E passage have the same intervals as the G, A, B of the pentatonic scale.  Even though the G# clashes with the G in E minor – the line has enough of a melodic drive that it can work (as long as you resolve the idea  – in this case to a chord tone).

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By understanding patterns, it becomes possible to  manipulate them and make them work for you.  In the next lesson we’ll play full pentatonic patterns on 2 string sets and bring in a few other ideas that will spice up your approaches

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Tones:

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Finally, for  those of you interested in the technical side of what I’m doing here are some screen shots of my set up. First the AU Lab rig:

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Something that may be of  interest to you – I set Audio MIDI Setup to 88.2k for the DUET  – but run the LA Convolver speaker cabs at 44.1.  That way the audio conversion rate for the guitar signal stays higher but I can use things that run at 44.1 (like the audio player on the Generator 1 strip).

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I’ve mentioned the AUAUDIO File Player on my AU lab posts – but it’s a cool plug-in.  Using it, I can bring in all kinds of samples or tracks and run them live with the guitar signal and record them with the click of the record button.  (It’s how all of these tracks are recorded btw – live into AU Lab).

There are two dirty sounds (I didn’t like my first tones so I re-recorded everything.  When I couldn’t find the first 5 audio files while typing this – I just went with the initial recordings since I didn’t have access to my guitar.)

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Here’s the dirty side of the main tone (Tube screamer is set at 9%, 53% and 9% – BTW)

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and the clean side:

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Tracks 1-4 are just my standard Marshall Who? settings

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Part two will be up soon!! In the meantime,  if you like this approach, I have a book that includes this material you may be interested in that features this material and much more!

Minor Pent Front

is 100 + pages of licks and instruction and includes demonstrations and breakdowns of two-string fingerings, diagonal pentatonics, sweep picking pentatonics, pentatonic harmony and much more!  It’s available here.

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Thanks for reading!

-SC

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