Blazing Pentatonic Guitar Licks



Blazing Pentatonic Guitar Licks

The minor pentatonic scale is extremely common. It is used extensively in American blues music and other cultures around the world employ it frequently as well. Personally, the minor pentatonic is one of my favorite scales and probably the one I rely on most for live improvisations. Here is the minor pentatonic in the key of G:


   |---------------------3-6--|
   |-----------------3-6------|
   |-------------3-5----------|
   |---------3-5--------------|
   |-----3-5------------------|
   |-3-6----------------------|

The actual notes ares G, A#, C, D, F, then it repeats with the G one octave higher. Notice there are five notes before it repeats with the octave, and penta means five.

The pentatonic scale was also a favorite of the great jazz fusion guitarist, John McLaughlin, and two of the licks in this article are based on phrases he regularly played in his improvisations. Actually, our first lick is from the blues scale, which is just the minor pentatonic with an extra note added (the flatted fifth). Before we get to the actual licks, here is the Blues scale in the key of C#:

   |--------------------------------9-12--|
   |---------------------------9-12-------|
   |-------------------9-11-12------------|
   |--------------9-11--------------------|
   |------9-10-11-------------------------|
   |-9-12---------------------------------|

Some might claim pentatonics have been overused in guitar music, and I must say I agree to a certain extent. Nevertheless I don’t think I could ever stop playing pentatonics. They sound too good and are too useful and convenient to simply give up forever. Pentatonic scales are also simple to remember and easy to play. But enough introductory comments. Here is our first lick:

   |-12-9-----------12-9------------|
   |------12-9-----------12-9-------|
   |-----------12-9-----------11-9--|
   |--------------------------------|
   |--------------------------------|
   |--------------------------------|


   |-12-9-----------12-9------------|
   |------12-9-----------12-9-------|
   |-----------12-9-----------11-9--|
   |--------------------------------|
   |--------------------------------|
   |--------------------------------|
Blazing Pentatonic Guitar Licks

This lick is fairly straightforward, but it makes for a challenging picking exercise since it only has two notes per string, which is somewhat uncommon for guitar licks. Also, you should pick every note above. Why? Because it makes the lick sound faster, and we want to achieve a blazing pentatonic sound. Usually I start the lick with an upstroke, which for some reason makes the picking pattern easier for me.

Once you have the first pentatonic lick down well, move on to this one:

   |-12-9------14-9------12-9------14-9-------|
   |------12-9------12-9------12-9------12-9--|
   |------------------------------------------|
   |------------------------------------------|
   |------------------------------------------|
   |------------------------------------------|

Picking every note here also makes the lick sound faster, and as with the one above, I begin with an upstroke. The stretch up to the 14th fret will be challenging but may help limber up your digits and improve your dexterity. Usually I play the second lick immediately after the first lick above, but I repeat them several times before switching.

Sticking with the minor pentatonic, here is a moderately challenging finger tapping lick (finger tapping is a technique whereby fingers of the picking hand are used to reach up and fret notes (execute hammer-ons and pull-offs) directly on the fret board itself, which produces a distinctive legato sound). All notes in the following lick are either tapped, hammered or pulled (notice the T’s above the tablature, which are the tapped notes):

       T       T            T       T 
   |-----------------14-9-12---------|
   |---------14-9-12---------14-9-12-|
   |-13-9-11-------------------------|
   |---------------------------------|
   |---------------------------------|
   |---------------------------------|


     T       T        T       T
   |-----------------14-9-12----------|
   |---------14-9-12---------14-9-12--|
   |-13-9-11--------------------------|
   |----------------------------------|
   |----------------------------------|
   |----------------------------------|

These wide interval jumps from string to string sound quite striking indeed. If you play this lick quickly enough you can generate a a slightly out-of-control “video game” effect.

Note that if you move the tapped notes on the E and B strings up one fret (from the 14th to 15th frets) you will get a diminished sound. And doing that will take you beyond pentatonics and make you sound like a blues man on Venus!

Blaze on with these pentatonic licks. Change the notes around for different scales and sounds. Experiment and have fun.

Learn more tips on how to use Pentatonic scales in our Pentatonic Scales - Tips and Tricks Article


 
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