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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 2 - Initial Connections

When you first encountered the minor pentatonic scale, it is likely that you learnt the 5 shapes of the scale separately. This is necessary and is really the only way to get to grips with the scale when you are starting out.

One of the drawbacks of taking this approach however, is that you can come to view the shapes of the minor pentatonic as being totally separate. You think about shapes, 1, 2 and 3 etc, and you think of each of them as being in their own distinct part of the fretboard.

Yet this is not the case. As I explain in the video above and throughout the rest of this course, the shapes of the minor pentatonic scale are not separate. In fact they overlap and all of the 5 shapes share notes with one another.

You can see this if you look at the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale laid out in the key of A:



At first sight, I appreciate that this diagram looks quite intense. But in fact all it shows is the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale laid out across the fretboard. It does not contain any new information, and simply illustrates the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale as they appear together on your fretboard. The notes in light blue are the tonic notes of A.

When you see the shapes laid out in this way, hopefully you can see that they are not separate. In fact they all share notes and all overlap one another.

We can see this a little more clearly if we look at an example of this crossover using just shapes 1 and 2 of the scale:



This diagram shows all of the notes that appear in shapes 1 and 2 of the A minor pentatonic scale. As in the previous diagrams, the light blue notes here show the tonic note of A. Additionally, the notes in yellow show all of the notes which are shared by both shapes of the scale.

As you can see, the 2 shapes overlap to such an extent that the notes on the right hand side of shape 1 are exactly the same as the notes on the left hand side of shape 2.

 

• Fretboard Connections •

Once you understand this idea, you can extend it to the full fretboard:



As before, the diagram here shows the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A. Now though, the first shape of the scale appears twice; first at the 5th fret and again at the 17th fret. Not only this, but here the notes on the D string are highlighted in yellow. These are the notes I talk through in detail in the video above.

In each shape of the minor pentatonic scale, you play these notes on the D string with a different finger. You can see this if you look at shapes 1 and 2 of the scale:


The note on which we are focusing here is the 7th fret on the D string. This appears in both shapes of the scale. In the first shape you play this note with the third finger. Conversely, in the second shape you play this with your first finger.

You can extend this idea across the whole fretboard:


This diagram shows shapes 2 and 3 of the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A. Again the target note here is on the D string. This time, it is at the 10th fret. You play this with your fourth finger in the second shape, and with your first finger in the third shape.

• Changing Positions •

The ideas that we have covered here are useful for two reasons:

Firstly, they help to illustrate that the minor pentatonic scale shapes are not separate. In fact they all overlap and share a lot of notes with one another. This is important to understand, as it provides the foundation for the further ideas and connecting points covered in this course.

Secondly and significantly, understanding this connection allows you to start moving between the minor pentatonic shapes. All you need to do is take a note from the right hand side of any scale shape, and replace it with your first finger and you will move into a new shape of the scale. This is true of all of the pentatonic scale shapes and it is also true across all of your strings.

To keep things simple, our focus in this lesson has been on the D string. However if we return to the diagram showing the crossover between shapes 1 and 2 of the scale you can see this in more detail:


All of the notes on the right hand side of shape 1 appear on the left hand side of shape 2. So if you take any of the notes that you play with your third or fourth fingers in shape 1, and replace them with your first finger, you will move from shape 1 to shape 2 of the scale. In other words, you don't have to limit your movement to the D string. You can execute this idea on the G string, B string or E string etc.

This same potential for movement exists across all 5 shapes of the scale. Not only this, but it exists both ways. So far I have spoken about and focused on moving up the fretboard. However these points of connection allow you to move down the fretboard in just the same way.

Let's say for example that you are playing in shape 2 of the minor pentatonic scale. If you take any of the notes that you are playing with your first finger and you change to play them instead with your third or fourth finger, you will move from the second shape to the first shape of the minor pentatonic scale.

• Next Steps •

Moving through the scale shapes in this way is quite challenging. This is because it requires you to be totally comfortable with the minor pentatonic scale shapes and the fingerings that you use to play each of these shapes.

As such, you don't need to worry too much about utilising these initial connections in your playing just yet. Throughout this course we will look at specific areas you can target to connect the shapes. This will help you to get started and will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. After all, if you start trying to connect each of the pentatonic shapes across all of your strings, things can get quite complicated, quite quickly.

At this stage then, it is just important to appreciate that there is overlap between the minor pentatonic scale shapes. This overlap allows you to alter the fingers that you use to play certain notes, and in this way you can move into new shapes of the scale.

I would recommend practicing this idea in one of two ways:

Take a note on a single string and trace it up and down the fretboard. In the video above I do this on the D string, but you can choose any string. Start in shape 1 of the minor pentatonic scale, and then change your fingerings to move into shape 2. Play shape 2 of the scale, before altering the finger that you use to play your target note. Move into shape 3 and repeat the process. You can move through all of the 5 scale shapes in this way and can then move back down to the shape in which you started.

Take two shapes of the minor pentatonic scale and test this idea out on all of your strings. In other words, practice moving between the two scale shapes by targeting a variety of notes across all six strings. This will help you to understand all of the ways that you can connect two shapes of the scale. If you take this approach. I would recommend starting with shapes 1 and 2 of the scale and get comfortable moving between them. After that, you can then test the same idea out between shapes 2 and 3, and then 3 and 4 etc.

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