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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 3 - Thinking Laterally

The initial points of connection that we covered in the previous lesson exist because of the interesting structure of your guitar. Your guitar functions in both a vertical and a lateral plane. This means that you can play from your 6th string to your 1st string and back again. Likewise, on any given string, you can play from the lower frets of your guitar up to the upper frets and back again.

This has a wide range of implications for how you play the guitar and how the instrument actually functions. To cover this in depth is a detailed subject that goes beyond the scope of this course.

However when it comes to scales, this simply means that you can play them up and down individual strings; you don't always have to play them vertically, from the low E string to the high E string.

This idea might sound simple or even obvious. However it becomes interesting and immensely useful when you apply it to the minor pentatonic scale across all 6 strings. Firstly, it will help you to create connections between the scale shapes. And as noted in the introduction to this course, this will go a long way in helping to improve your solos.

Perhaps more importantly, it will help you to start thinking laterally. You will no longer just be thinking about moving up and down scale shapes in single positions. Instead, you will be looking at how you can travel up and down your fretboard when soloing. And this will do a lot to improve the quality of your solos and help them to flow in a smoother and more musical way.

• Getting Started •

When you first encounter this idea, it can be a little tricky to understand and appreciate. Hopefully the examples illustrated in the video above help, but I think it is also useful to visualise this idea on the fretboard. Let's look at the notes which appear in the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A:

This diagram shows the notes that appear in a single octave of the first shape of the A minor scale.

The notes shown in the diagram above are the only notes present in the A minor pentatonic scale. It doesn't matter which shape of the scale you are playing or on which string - if you are playing the A minor pentatonic scale, you are playing one of the following notes:


This becomes important to understand as soon as we start to look at the fretboard laterally and play the minor pentatonic scale across the low E string. This is what the notes look like across the 6th string:

As above, this diagram shows the 5 notes of the minor pentatonic scale - A, C, D, E and G. The only difference here is that they are laid out laterally across a single string.

The notes shown on the diagram above on the low E string are exactly the same notes as those in the first diagram. Not only this, but they have the exact same pitch as those shown in the first diagram. In other words, if you start on the 5th fret of the low E string and you want to play a single octave of the minor pentatonic scale, you have two options:

The first of these is to keep your hand in a single position and play vertically, moving from the E string to the D string and back again. The second is to move laterally; playing the same 5 notes by moving up the 6th string to the 17th fret.

• Lateral Connections •

As noted in the video above, you can do the same across all of the strings on your guitar. To help you visualise this and get started practicing your minor pentatonic scales laterally, I have added in fretboard diagrams for all 6 strings.

All of the examples here are illustrated using the A minor pentatonic scale. As above, they are also built from the first shape of the scale.

This is what the minor pentatonic scales look like when played laterally across your 6 strings:

Low E string

A string

D string

G string

B string

E string


• Putting It All Together •

Each of these diagrams illustrates the A minor pentatonic scale, played laterally across a single string. Each of these scales starts from notes that appear in the first shape of the A minor pentatonic scale. And each scale contains the same five notes - A, C, D, E and G. The only difference is that each of these scales starts on different notes, and the notes appear in different pitches.

For example, when you start in this position on the B string, the first note you play is the note of E. Whereas on the G string it is the note of C.

This is what all of these lateral scale shapes look like when combined together:

As always, these full fretboard diagrams can look quite overwhelming. However, hopefully you can see that combining the lateral scales in this way produces the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale that you are used to playing. Now though you can see that these scales function both vertically and laterally.

In other words, you can take any note, and from there you have two options. You can either move from that note vertically and play notes on the adjacent strings, or you can move laterally and play notes on the same string.

As a final point, it is worth noting that you can apply this idea beyond the 5 pentatonic shapes shown above. In the key of A for example, shape 5 of the minor pentatonic scale appears twice; first at the 3rd fret and again at the 15th fret. Likewise, shape 1 of the minor pentatonic scale appears twice, first at the 5th fret and again at the 17th fret.

If we take these scale shapes into account, then additional notes are added into the lateral scales across each string. We can see this by looking at the notes across the low 6th string:

This diagram shows the exact same notes as above. The only difference is that here there are two additional notes; the note of G at the 3rd fret and C at the 18th fret. These notes are taken from the 5th and 1st shapes of the A minor pentatonic scale, respectively.


• Next Steps •

If you have predominantly viewed your fretboard in vertical, rather than lateral terms prior to this point, then don't worry about getting to grips with this all at once.

As noted in the video, trying to use this information in your playing is challenging at first. There is a lot to take in, and trying to alter your view of the fretboard will take time and practice.

For now then, just try to get comfortable with the concept illustrated in this lesson. You don't need to worry too much about applying it in your playing just yet. In the next lessons we will look at specific areas of the fretboard where you can use lateral movement to join the pentatonic shapes up. Again, this will help you to get started and will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

Before moving on though, I would recommend practicing the minor pentatonic scales laterally across each of your 6 strings, as shown above. This will help you to start building connections between the shapes. It will also get you to start thinking about your fretboard in a different way.