The UK's No. 1 String Specialist

The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 7 - Shapes 4 & 5

The penultimate connection that we are going to look at in this course is between shapes 4 and 5 of the minor pentatonic scale. In the key of A, these shapes are up in the higher registers of your guitar. In some ways this makes connecting the two shapes easier. There is less space between the notes and so you don't have to stretch so far when executing techniques like hammer ons and pull offs.

The slight challenge is that the reduced space between frets also increases the likelihood of you hitting the wrong notes. Particularly when you are sliding, it can be easy to overshoot the mark and miss the note for which you are aiming. So when practicing these ideas, pay extra attention to your fretting hand.

As in the previous lessons of this course, our approach here remains largely the same. We are going to keep focusing on a single point of connection, and that point of connection is going to be on the G string:

This connecting note takes you from the tonic note of A at the 14th fret on the G string, up to the 17th fret on the same string. As noted in previous lessons of this course and in much more detail in the courses entitled 'Creating Solos With The Minor Pentatonic Scale' and '5 Techniques To Spice Up Your Blues Guitar Solos' targeting the tonic note is a brilliant way of resolving your phrases. Playing the tonic note creates a moment of musical resolution. It acts like a musical full stop and works well as the final note of any given lick or phrase.

In this context then, you have a variety of ways of using this tonic note to your advantage. You can:

  • Finish a phrase on the 14th fret, and then slide up to the 17th fret. In this way you move from shape 4 to shape 5 at the start of a new phrase

  • Target that 14th fret at the end of your phrase. You can do this by sliding down from the 17th fret to the 14th fret. In this way you move from shape 5 to shape 4 at the start of a new phrase

  • Connect the two notes through hammer ons and pull offs. Given the close proximity of the frets in this part of the fretboard, this will allow you to pivot and move between the two shapes quickly and smoothly

As in the previous lessons, these are just some of the many different ideas you can execute between these two notes. Experiment as much as possible and work on crafting a wide variety of ideas. Make a note of what resonates with you, and develop those ideas. Likewise, note down what doesn't work well for you, and avoid those ideas in your improvisations moving forwards.

As you do this, continue to pay close attention to your fretting hand. The close proximity of the frets in this section of the neck makes it easy to get your fretting hand tangled up. So take things nice and slowly and consolidate your ideas before moving on.

• Connecting Shapes 1-5 •

Once you feel comfortable connecting shapes 4 and 5, you can start to look at connecting up all of the shapes of the pentatonic scale. Let's look at this in a bit more detail:

The diagram above shows the 5 shapes of the A minor pentatonic scale. The notes in light blue are the tonic notes of A, and those in dark yellow are the target notes that we have been focusing on as a means of connecting the scale shapes.

Looking at full fretboard diagrams in this way can often be quite overwhelming. There are so many notes with which to contend and this can be a little paralysing. You have so many notes to play that you struggle to play any. If you feel that way, then as in the previous lessons I would recommend focusing on just the top 3 strings. You can see this on the following diagram:

Start by connecting the mini box shapes you find on the G, B and E strings. Once you feel comfortable moving between them - both up and down your fretboard - you can then start to bring in the notes on the bass strings.

At this stage, the opportunities for connecting the 5/6 notes on the G string are expansive. If you take the granular ideas that we have covered in each of the individual lessons and extend them across the fretboard, then hopefully you can see this potential.

As before, the key to success here lies in experimentation. Try out as many ideas as possible. Move between the notes on that G string using different techniques and jump between them in different ways. This will keep your playing fresh and ensure your solos never sound repetitive.

It is worth noting however, that you don't have to always apply techniques to join these shapes up. As I illustrate in the video, you can just play the two notes as a means of connecting them.

Strictly speaking, this means you are in fact just playing the notes from a single shape, rather than moving between different shapes. However what matters here is perception. If you are thinking about how the notes overlap into different shapes, you will be more likely to connect them in a variety of different ways. And that is what matters in terms of your actual playing.

• Next Steps •

In the next lesson of this course, we will look at how to link the fifth shape of the scale back up to the first shape. This will complete the loop and mean that you can traverse across your whole fretboard using these connections.

However before heading over there, take time to consolidate this material. As I have stressed throughout, these simple points of connection offer a huge amount of possibility. So often I see players move on, just as they are starting to scratch the surface of an idea. Instead of really exploring any given topic and all of its potential, they rush onto something new.

As tempting as this might be, please try to resist the urge. Implementing these connections effectively will totally transform your playing. It will unlock the fretboard for you and will drastically improve the quality of your improvisations. So take your time here. Play the ideas first without a backing track, and then try to implement them in a real musical context. 

Good luck! Have a great week of playing, and I look forward to seeing you next time!