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The Blues Foundation Course

Lesson 9 - Next Level Connections

Once you feel totally comfortable moving across the pentatonic shapes on your G string, you can start to extend this idea to your other strings.

It is worth returning at this point to the earlier lesson from this course titled, 'Thinking Laterally'. In that lesson we covered the idea that you have pentatonic scales running along all 6 strings. And as a result, you can play up your fretboard in the same way that you can play up your strings, moving from the 6th to the 1st string. In practice, this means that you can connect the minor pentatonic shapes laterally on any string of your choice.

Up to this point we have focused on the G string for a couple of reasons, which are as follows:

Firstly, it streamlines your approach. Trying to grapple with lateral connections across 6 strings is challenging when you first start out. You are likely to get overwhelmed and demotivated. Focusing on a single string prevents this from happening.

Secondly, following connecting points on the G string puts your fretting hand into an advantageous position. You can move across the G string and then easily target notes on the B and E strings in your solos. 

Once you get comfortable navigating up and down the G string however, you can start to look at further options. And these are as follows:

• The B and E String •

As noted above, there are pentatonic scales which run across all 6 strings. And this means that you can in fact move laterally across any of your 6 strings in the way we did on the G string. The same potential exists. You just need to pinpoint the connecting points on each of the strings. You can then explore joining the shapes up as we did on the G string.

Yet whilst this may be the case, I would recommend taking a slightly more focused approach at first. In other words, instead of suddenly opening up the whole fretboard, I would recommend extending this idea to the B and E strings. This will stop you from becoming overwhelmed. Not only this, but these strings are also likely to be the ones you target with greater frequency in your solos.

Here then, let's have a look at the same idea of connection across the B and the E strings:

B string

On this diagram, the yellow notes that we are targeting have all been moved up to the B string. Everything else about the diagram remains the same as in the previous lesson. It is just that now, the connecting thread on which we are focusing is on the B, rather than the G string.

E string

Extending this idea to the E string produces very similar results. In fact, the spaces between the notes on the B and E string are almost identical. It is only the movement between the second and third shapes of the scale that is different. On the B string you slide from the 10th to the 13th fret. Conversely on the E string, you slide up from the 10th to the 12th fret.

• Practicing These Connections •

As you might expect - and as I illustrate in the video above - targeting the notes on these strings vastly increases the options available to you. You are no longer limited to move across a single string. Instead you have 3 strings that you can target at any given moment.

This means that you can be very fluid in your approach. You can move between shapes by following a single string, and then move back down on a different string. Not only this, but you can vary the techniques and methods you use on each string in different moments. So you can target slides on the G string for example, and then use hammer ons and pull offs on the B and E strings.

This provides you with almost limitless choices when improvising, And in turn this ensures that your solos continue to sound varied and interesting.

The key to truly consolidating this idea is to break it up into small and manageable chunks. When you are presented with so many options, I believe that it is worth digging into all of the different possibilities in granular detail. Otherwise there is a high chance that you will pick 2 or 3 ideas which become your 'go-to' licks. And if you are not careful then you can end up overusing these in your playing.

• Approaching Improvisation •

To prevent this from happening, I would recommend testing these new connecting points between just 1 or 2 shapes. For example, you could pick the first 2 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale and try to move between them in as many different ways as possible.

My personal approach is to get quite granular and break this challenge up into even smaller chunks. Specifically, both in my own playing and with the guitarists I work with, I recommend doing 'rounds of improvisation'.

Rather than putting on a backing track, playing over it and hoping for the best, in this approach you set yourself a target for each round. In practice, this could look something like this:

Round 1. Work on moving between shapes 1 and 2 of the minor pentatonic scale, targeting movements across the G and B strings.

Round 2. Work on moving between shapes 1 and 2 of the minor pentatonic scale. Focus on the G string as you move up from shape 1 and then switch your focus to the B string as you move back down from shape 2 to shape 1.

Round 3. Work on moving between shapes 1, 2 and 3 of the minor pentatonic scale. Focus on the B string on the way up through the shapes and on the E string on the way back down through the shapes.

On paper this might look very intense. Yet I find this approach to work very well for two reasons:

Firstly, it reduces the chance that you will feel overwhelmed. You don't need to worry about moving across the whole fretboard on a variety of different strings. Instead you can focus on certain strings and on compact areas of the fretboard.

Secondly, this approach helps to encourage creativity. With the whole fretboard on offer, most players default to their 'go-to' phrases. They revert to their comfort zones and often end up playing with less variety than when they are forced to play in more compact areas of the fretboard.

So as counter intuitive as it might seem, focusing in this granular way can do a lot to encourage variety and creativity. With fewer options available to you, you have to work to come up with new and interesting ideas. And this will lead you to craft new and interesting licks and connecting phrases.

• Putting It All Together •

If the approach of doing 'rounds' of improvisations appeals to you, then you can do a huge amount with this idea. The three examples above are just some of the almost endless options you can explore. So as has been the theme throughout this course - don't be afraid to experiment. Dig into this idea of connection in granular detail.

Think about the different strings you can target, and the various different ways that you can connect the scale shapes together.

At first, try to implement these ideas slowly outside of a musical context. Get comfortable with the mechanics of the connections and how the notes actually fit together on each of the strings. Continue to pay close attention to your fretting hand and try to ensure that you choose the right fingers for any given lick or phrase.

Once you feel confident combining the notes on the B and E string together with those on the G string, try improvising over backing tracks.. You will soon be on your way to creating a wide variety of interesting licks and connecting phrases!