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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 4 - Shapes 1 & 2

Now that we've covered some of the fundamental ways in which the minor pentatonic scales connect up over the fretboard, we can start to look at specific areas of connection. This will help to provide you with some reference material to get started, and it will break down the challenge of connecting the pentatonic scale shapes into more manageable chunks.

We are going to start here by looking at shapes 1 and 2 of the minor pentatonic scale. The first and second shapes of the minor pentatonic scale are typically the shapes that guitarists use the most when they are starting out. And so learning the connecting points between these two shapes is very useful. It helps you to move between a lot of your 'go-to' phrases, and to do so in a way that is smooth and musical.

We are going to focus on just a single point of connection here, which you can see on the following diagram:

The diagram above shows all of the notes in both shape 1 and shape 2 of the A minor pentatonic scale. The notes in light blue are the tonic notes of A. And in dark yellow, you can see the 2 key notes which you can use to connect the two scale shapes.

You can connect these 2 notes in a variety of different ways. But just some of the ways I would recommend moving between the two positions of the scale are as follows. You can:

  • Slide up from the 7th fret to the 9th fret. When you do this, I would recommend using either your middle or third fingers

  • Slide down from the 9th fret to the 7th fret. When doing this, you might find it is easier to use your middle finger

  • Hammer on to the 9th fret, having started with your first finger on the 7th fret

  • Pull off to the 7th fret, having started with your third finger on the 9th fret

One move that I think works particularly well is to use your middle finger to slide up from the 7th to the 9th fret. This will put your hand into an advantageous position to execute a variety of licks in the 'Albert King Box', which is shown below:

You can then quite easily reverse the movement, moving back down the fretboard to shape 1 of the minor pentatonic scale.

When you are executing this idea, I would recommend sliding up using your middle finger. This will put your hand into the perfect position to play the notes of the Albert King box which appear on the 8th and 10th frets.

Conversely, if you use your third finger, you will either need to play those notes with your middle and fourth fingers, or make a quick switch in your fretting hand to change position. The former will put you into an awkward position to move across the shape and execute string bends. The latter will slow you down and make it more challenging for you to play at speed.

I cover fretting hand position in more detail below. But this is how I would recommend executing this specific idea.

• Additional Connections •

Once you feel comfortable connecting the 7th and the 9th frets on the G string, you can take this one step further by looking at the 5th fret on the G string:

Adding this extra note into the mix gives you many more options for connecting the two shapes. Just some of the ways you can target this note when connecting shapes 1 and 2 are as follows. You can:

  • Slide directly up from the 5th fret to the 9th fret

  • Move the opposite way, sliding directly down from the 9th fret to the 5th fret

  • Break your slide up by pausing on the 7th fret. You can execute this idea going both up and down the fretboard

  • Combine these sliding ideas with pull offs and hammer ons. For example, you can execute a hammer on between the 5th and 7th fret, and then slide straight up into the 9th fret. You can also do the reverse - pulling off from the 9th to the 7th fret, before sliding down to the 5th fret

As above, these are just some of the many options available to you. Hopefully though they give you some ideas to get started. You can then experiment and iterate until you find a range of ideas that really resonate with you.

• Limiting Your Focus •

Part of what can help here is limiting your focus. In some of my other courses - like 'Creating Solos With The Minor Pentatonic Scale', I advise focusing on your G, B and E strings when you first start soloing.

This effectively halves the number of notes you need to worry about. It also helps you to focus on the strings that you are most likely to use when you are soloing. As such, when you are first getting started with this material, you might find it more useful to focus your attention on the following notes from these two scale shapes:

This diagram simply shows a condensed version of the diagrams above. So here, rather than having to think about all of the notes in both scale shapes, you can predominantly focus on the notes on the top 3 strings. I favour this approach as you can travel along the G string and then target the notes on your B and E strings.

Of course, this is just a suggestion. If you want to tackle the scale shapes in their entirety then you can do so. And it is for this reason that I have added in the complete diagrams above.


• Fretting Hand Considerations •

Whichever approach you take, my one piece of advice as you are going through this process is to pay attention to your fretting hand. As noted in the video, the specific fingers that you use to execute these ideas will be determined by where on the fretboard you are moving to, and the type of licks that you are executing at any given point.

It is difficult to give specific recommendations here because of the sheer number of options available to you. However, below are some points to keep in mind. Whenever you are executing movements between these shapes, you want your movements to be:

1.) Minimal. You always want to cut out extraneous movements. Think about how you can travel from point A to B with as little movement as possible. This will reduce the likelihood you will clip unwanted notes. It will also make it much easier to play at speed and execute fast licks a little further down the line.

2.) Clean. Similarly, you want to avoid any shuffling or reshuffling of your fingers. I often work with players who move into a new shape, only to find that they need to quickly move their fingers around to execute the lick they had in mind. Try to keep your movements as clean as possible and avoid any last minute and unplanned shuffling with the hand. Which leads me to my next point...

3.) Advantageous. Put your best foot forward. Look ahead to the lick you would like to execute and think about the fingers you will need to use and the hand position that will work best.

4.) Balanced. The one caveat to point 3 is to make sure you don't favour your dominant fingers at the expense of your overall fretting hand development. I have worked with a lot of guitarists who only play with their first and middle fingers. This is quite a bad habit to develop as these players then have to move their fretting hand a lot when moving around the fretboard. As noted above, you should always work to put your fretting hand into the best position. But don't allow bad habits to creep into your playing.

These points are important to keep in mind. Not just in this lesson, but also throughout the remainder of this course and in your playing more generally.

• Putting It All Together •

Before moving on, I would like you to spend time consolidating these ideas. What is both wonderful (and at times a little overwhelming!) about the guitar, is the potential of the instrument. The ideas and suggestions I have provided here are just some of the many, many options out there.

As I hope you can see, you can take a single note and use that as a way of creating a whole range of different licks and phrases. So before rushing onto the next lesson, take your time here. Explore some of the ways that I have suggested of moving between the two scale shapes. Then, work on creating your own connections.

For most players who are starting out, the first and second shapes of the minor pentatonic scale are where they spend most of their time improvising. And if this is the case for you, then crafting some interesting ways of connecting the two shapes will do a lot to improve your playing. It will breathe life into your individual licks and add a smooth and flowing feel to any solos you create in this area of the fretboard.

As such, consolidate the movements between these scale shapes before moving on. Take things slowly and focus on the fingers you use to execute the movements. This will set you up nicely for the next lesson, where we'll take a look at how to connect the second and third pentatonic shapes. See you over there!