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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 5 - Shapes 2 & 3

Moving onto shapes 2 and 3, this idea of connection is very much the same. Again we are focusing on a single point of connection, which you can see on the following diagram:

The diagram above shows all of the notes in shape 2 and shape 3 of the minor pentatonic scale. The notes in light blue are the tonic notes of A. And in dark yellow, you can see the two key notes which you can use to connect the scale shapes.

You can connect these notes in a variety of different ways. But just some of the ways I would recommend are as follows. You can:

  • Slide up from the 9th fret to the 12th fret

  • Do the opposite, and slide down from the 12th fret to the 9th fret

  • Connect these two notes using hammer ons and pull offs

At first it can feel a bit awkward to connect shapes 2 and 3 of the minor pentatonic. This is because the connecting notes are 3 frets apart, rather than 2 - as in the previous lesson. As such, this requires you to either slide further, or to stretch with your hand when executing hammer ons and pull offs. Yet whilst this might feel a little awkward to begin with, it is a great first step in getting you used to making bigger jumps across the fretboard.

• Additional Connections •

The benefit of focusing on a single point of connection in each shape is that you can combine the shapes quite easily. This is important, because in addition to the variety of licks you can create to move between shapes 1 and 2, and 2 and 3 individually, you can now start to include ideas which connect the 3 shapes together. You can see this on the following diagram:

This shows the first 3 shapes of the A minor pentatonic scale. The notes in light blue show the tonic notes of A. And highlighted in dark yellow are the notes that we have targeted in our connections up to this point.

So far, we have spoken about targeting these notes through fairly small movements. Now though, there are 4 notes that you can target and move between. These are all on the same string and span 7 frets. This provides you with a lot of potential for creating interesting connecting licks. Just some of these are as follows. You can:

  • Slide up from the 5th fret to the 12th fret in a single movement, jumping 7 frets in a single motion

  • Move the opposite way, sliding directly down from the 12th fret to the 5th fret

  • Break your slide up by pausing on the 7th and 9th frets. 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 12th fret. You can also do the reverse - pulling off from the 12th to the 9th fret, before sliding down to the 5th fret

As we start to add in more pentatonic shapes and connecting notes, the opportunities for creating different and interesting licks greatly increases. Even though we are still only focusing on 4 notes on a single string, there are innumerable ways of connecting and combining these notes.

The suggestions above are just some of the almost limitless options you have available. So when you are practicing connecting these 3 shapes together, really try to experiment. Think about moving between these notes and shapes in as many different ways as possible. Combine bends, slides, hammer ons and pull offs. Get creative and work on getting as much mileage as possible out of these 3 shapes. This will unlock new ideas in your playing and give your improvisations a smooth and musical feel.

• Limiting Your Focus Pt. II •

As in the previous lesson, limiting your focus can prove helpful here. The fretboard is opening up now and with so many notes available to you, it is easy to become overwhelmed. If that is the case, then try focusing on the notes shown in the following diagram:

In this way you can think about travelling along the G string, and executing licks on the B and E strings. This means that you don't have to worry about navigating the strings on both sides of the G string. You can focus on lateral movements across the G string, and then vertical movements across just the top 3 strings.

Of course - if you feel comfortable to do so, then you can tackle all 3 scale shapes together. However when you are first getting started, I think limiting your focus to the notes shown here can be very helpful. You can build up a repertoire of interesting licks and get comfortable moving between the shapes. With time you can then start to include notes on the bass strings too.

• Practical Considerations •

Utilising slides and a combination of different techniques together can be quite challenging. This is especially true if you start to move across large areas of the fretboard. As you start to experiment with these movements, there is an increased likelihood that you will start hitting the wrong notes.

This is particularly the case with sliding. When you are sliding, it is very easy to overshoot the mark and end up a fret higher than you intended. Likewise, it is easy to not go quite as far as you expected, and end up one fret too low.

If this happens frequently when you are experimenting with these ideas, then I would recommend the following:

Firstly, pay attention to the pressure of your fretting hand. When sliding, you need to apply enough pressure for the note to ring out. However you don't want to apply so much pressure that you get stuck on the fretboard and don't reach your target note.

Additionally, allow yourself to make mistakes. If you do over or under cook your slides, don't stop and hit the reset button. Instead, quickly adjust your fretting hand so that you move to the intended target note. Not only can this sound great (and also like you intended to do it!) but it is important to develop the skill of pushing through your mistakes. You will improve quicker if you take this approach, rather than pausing and starting again every time you make a mistake. You will also be much better set up to solo or play with other musicians, if you have that ambition.

• Putting It All Together •

As a final point, I think it is worth reiterating the closing message of the previous lesson. And that is to really explore and experiment with these ideas and connections before moving on. I know that it is tempting to tick these lessons off and try to work through them as quickly as possible.

Yet whilst that might be the case, I would urge you to take your time here before moving on. There is a lot to explore. You can do so much with these ideas, and can get so much mileage out of your 'go-to' licks and phrases by combining them alongside these new connecting licks.

With this opportunity also comes the potential to get into trouble, especially with the fingers you use to navigate through these shapes. As such, I would recommend paying even closer attention to the fingers that you are using. This will ensure that you don't get tangled up and are building good habits with your fretting hands.

As noted previously, the challenge with your fretting hand is that there are no real 'hard and fast rules'. The finger(s) that make the most sense for you to use in any given phrase will depend not only on the phrase you are playing, but also the following phrase.

Good luck combining these ideas! I'll see you over in the next lesson where we'll continue moving through the different pentatonic shapes.