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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 8 - Shapes 5 & 1

For this last point of connection, we are going to drop down to the bottom of the fretboard. This is because In the key of A, shape 5 of the minor pentatonic scale appears twice. This is first at the 3rd fret and again at the 15th fret. In my experience, most guitarists prefer to target the shape in the lower registers, and so we will be focusing on this area of the fretboard here:

Of all of the connections outlined in this course so far, this is one of my favourites. This is because there is an interesting relationship between the connecting notes shown in the diagram above, and the remaining notes in the 2 shapes.

Specifically, it is because the note at the 7th fret on the D string and the note at the 2nd fret on the G string are exactly the same. They are both the tonic note of A, and both notes have the same pitch.

This gives you a variety of interesting options when soloing and connecting these shapes. You have two options for targeting the tonic in close proximity. Each of these options creates a different sound, and also puts your fretting hand into a different position on the fretboard. Some options for you to consider are as follows. You can:

  • Start in the first shape, and slide down to the 2nd fret of the G string. This works very well as a way of resolving your phrases, as opposed to targeting the 7th fret on the D string

  • Start in the fifth shape, and slide up from the tonic note of A at the 2nd fret. You can use this as a launch pad to move up the fretboard and execute a variety of licks in the first shape of the scale

  • Combine techniques like slides, hammer ons, pull offs and bends to join the shapes in a smooth and legato way

As always, these are just some ideas to help you get started. Experiment and try out a variety of different ways to connect these shapes before moving on.

• Full Fretboard Connections •

At this stage, we have now covered all of the connections across the pentatonic shapes. This is what this looks like when we join them up across the fretboard:

This diagram shows shapes 1-5 of the minor pentatonic scale. Shape 5 appears twice, first at the 3rd fret and again at the 15th fret. The notes in light blue show the tonic notes of A and those in yellow show the connecting thread that we have followed throughout this course to move through the shapes.

As you can hopefully see, the notes on the G string provide you with a framework for connecting up areas across your whole fretboard. However when laid out in this way, alongside all of the notes of the minor pentatonic scales, this can be a lot to take in. And so as in previous lessons, we can break this challenge down to focus on the notes on just your treble strings:

This diagram illustrates all of the same notes and connecting points as the diagram above. The only difference is that apart from two notes on the D string, the notes on the bass strings have been removed. I have included these two notes for two reasons:

Firstly and as noted in the previous lesson, you can target the note at the 7th fret on the D string alongside movements between the fifth and first shapes. This allows you to create interesting and varied licks which target the tonic note of A in different places on the fretboard.

Secondly, the first shape of the minor pentatonic scale is typically one with which players feel comfortable. Often they can play up and down the whole scale shape with ease. And this means that in all likelihood they are already targeting these notes in their solos with regularity. This is unlikely to be the case in some of the other shapes, where the notes on the bass strings will be less familiar.

• Practicing These Connections •

In the video above, you will see that I work through the 5 shapes in a methodical and quite mechanical way. I start in shape 5, and move through the shapes until I reach the fifth shape an octave higher. I then pause, before working my way back down to the beginning.

When I do so, I focus almost solely on my top 3 strings. This is partly to keep things focused and streamlined for you, but also because these are the strings that I target most frequently when I solo.

I would recommend you take the same approach to help you consolidate these ideas. Keep things nice and simple. Start low down on your fretboard and work your way through the shapes, before pausing and moving back to the starting point.

When tackling this, think about which fingers you are using to move across the shapes, and which movements will cause you to get tangled up.

Once you feel comfortable with the mechanics and can move up and down the fretboard in the way I illustrate in the video, you can turn your attention to executing these ideas in a musical context. Try soloing and jamming over some blues backing track in the key of A.

This will be a challenge. When you play without a backing track you have a lot more freedom to create licks and phrases. Conversely, as soon as you put them into a musical context, you have to work to make them 'fit'. This is often difficult. But it can also bring out different elements and ideas in your playing.

So work through this slowly. Continue to take your time to consolidate these connections and get totally comfortable with them before moving on. Good luck! And I'll see you in the next lesson where we'll look at how to extend these ideas of connection beyond just your G string. See you over there!