Pentatonics All Over Your Bass
By Kevin Guin
Pentatonic scales are a leaner, meaner version of their big brother scales that have more notes and they have a certain built-in advantage that you can easily discover by digging into their secrets.
All things being equal, when you play scale materials that have less notes you will be covering more ground across the fingerboard with more string crossing and wider intervals. And due to the fact that a prominent first hurdle in playing guitars is learning to cross strings, you get accelerated lessons in traversing your fingerboard real estate when you study pentatonic scales.
But there is a bright side to the difficulties of getting around your instrument with pentatonics. When you are covering more ground with less notes there is automatically more space between the notes. In other words the sound is less crowded, less conjunct. It’s a more “open” sound and that in itself is a very noticeable benefit to using pentatonics.
The purpose of today’s lesson is to introduce a down and dirty, understandable method for doing a deep dive into pentatonic scale materials derived from the major scale – how to slot them out across your fingerboard, how to organize them, and how to ratchet up the difficulty once you are beyond the first couple of steps.
Many people will have at least a bit of familiarity with the pentatonic topic. However, the questions must be asked: Are you truly playing these materials all over your instrument in all keys? Are you building positions and putting yourself through the paces to start mastering the material in multiple ways?
The best way to describe your job is the following:
– Identify the note names and also the intervals in a pentatonic scale pair, ie, Gm/Bb Major pentatonic.
– Sing the notes carefully, taking care to hit the pitch centers as closely as possible
– Play the rudimentary first position scale pattern.
– Build all “modal” hand positions from that pentatonic pair from your low string up to the highest, ie, all five positions, using the most accessible fingering first.
– Play the four-note patterns on 2-strings slowly and deliberately from the lowest position to the highest position and back again (approximately eight positions).
– Apply pattern mix-ups and dynamics let the fun begin!
One observation on fingerboard memorization that I would like to point out are the two-string patterns. If you first identify the positions of the minor and major pair you will notice that on both sides directly adjacent to them are the smaller “box” patterns. Then as you proceed higher along the fingerboard you will recognize these patterns again: small box, large box, small box, the minor, the major.
I realize all this talk of the infamous box shapes on the fingerboard isn’t exactly standard terminology but in this case I think it helps to begin the process of memorization. And in each of these cases you can then begin to connect these 2-string shapes with their own vertical, full four-string hand positions to fill things out all across the fingerboard.
In the video lesson I introduce two different patterns to begin what I like to call the mix-ups. First is the basic quadruplet pattern. The second is a simple displacement with a direction change. It is intended to be an introductory challenge, but like I say in the lesson: please don’t take any of these patterns for granted.
Every pattern study has it’s place and to go through the process of slotting it out on your fingerboard you will need a stout heart, completely single-minded attention, and your phone turned off!
To complete any and all studies in my teaching I always add the dynamic element. Dynamics and accent studies are absolutely critical to bring yourself closer to actually making music.
In this case if you can play each exercise, each hand position, and each mix-up with a light touch, full note value, very low and flat dynamics first, and then add in accents for smart musical emphasis you will find that things start to sound like music very quickly. It’s a great feeling of musical creativity to have in hand that second beautiful world of expression that comes with a thorough study of dynamics.
I truly hope all of you find value in this lesson and that you take a friend along to study these materials and bring yourselves closer to your musical goals by doing so.
Best of luck to all of you and thanks for stopping in.