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Blues Guitar Lessons: The Minor Pentatonic Scale

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All right, we've put our arms around
the rhythm thing pretty comfortably
at this point, I think.
You're prepared with
the different textures and
layers to play the 12 barre blues.
You can do the turnarounds, the endings,
you know the different
forms that it can take.
So, that's a pretty comfortable
spot to be in for a while.
Let's turn our attention to the subject
we've all been waiting for.
And that's melodies or soloing and how
to express a phrase using single notes.
It's kinda one of the things that inspired
me to play guitar back in the day.
I was into surf music when I was a kid.
And I would hear that guy play that
twangy melody, man that was it.
And then later on I got into blues and
heard how the blues guys did it,
and I just thought man, that's
the language I want to be able to speak.
So the starting place is to figure
out what notes are we gonna use.
And we're gonna combine notes and
rhythms and touch textures.
And try to keep everything in
balance cuz it really isn't a note
thing as much as it is the whole package.
It's not about what scale you play,
it's about how you play the melody.
And we think of it as a melody.
The scale is a vehicle,
the melody is what we're going after here.
Now, typically when we talk about a style
of music and we talk about melody.
The subject begins with scales, and
that makes sense because a scale
contains the same notes as the chords.
They're hand in glove all the way through
the chords are derived from the scale and
so forth.
And in diatonic music [SOUND].
The major scale is kind of the master
sound from which melodies are derived.
If we play chord
progressions of pop songs,
they're kind of sweet [SOUND].
Perfect fit.
Every chord, every note of the scale,
they all mesh together and
it sounds,
like they're really meant to be together.
Blues, as usual,
there's something a little bit different.
Now we talked about blues harmony, and
about how the three chords don't
fit the European diatonic system.
Because they're all dominant chords.
And so according to the European theory,
they don't really belong in the same key,
but they are.
And so when you have three chords
that are a little bit off [SOUND] and
they don't fit a single scale.
Then where does the melody come from?
There is no one scale that encompasses
all the notes of all the chords.
So, the sound that we hear,
when we hear blues and
I think probably the melody came first.
I think that's almost a guaranteed
fact and the harmony came second.
The three cords that are used in the
blues, the dominant cords we're an attempt
to create using European instruments,
the guitar, the piano and so forth.
To create a background for the melodies
that made the blues sound bluesy.
And those melodies derive
from African roots.
So they're not based on the major scale or
the minor scale in the diatonic sound,
there's something else again.
They have notes that don't
fit on the page, in fact.
So the closest approximation that we come
up with when we talk about a melody,
sort of the starting point from
which we will build the blues sound.
Is not diatonic, it doesn't have
seven notes, it's Pentatonic.
Meaning it has five notes, and
specifically, it's the minor pentatonic.
Now, when we say major and
minor we're talking about the quality or
the distance between the root and
the third degree of the scale.
A major scale [SOUND].
The distance is two whole steps,
that's called a major third.
And we hear major chords and
major scales and that's the sound.
[SOUND] A minor scale,
the distance is a minor third.
when we hear the minor pentatonic,
we're hearing a scale has five notes
starting with a minor third [SOUND].
And then the fourth [SOUND]
the fifth [SOUND] the minor
seventh [SOUND] and the octave [SOUND].
Now you compare the minor pentatonic scale
[SOUND] to the dominant chord [SOUND].
And we hear that they almost match.
And the thing that doesn't
quite match is that third.
The dominant chord has a major third in
it, the scale has a minor third in it.
How can that be?
Two different qualities coexisting.
That's the blues.
The blue note is actually, and
we're gonna learn this a little bit later,
but the blue note is [SOUND].
It's right in between.
[SOUND] It's kind of a magic note.
It's really mind boggling
when you think about it.
But [SOUND] the minor pentatonic
is gonna be our vehicle for
developing some phrasing skills.
And then we're gonna start embellishing
the minor pentatonic to turn it into
the real blues sound.
Which is not really minor pentatonic.
It's the blues pentatonic
as I think of it.
Okay, now, first of all, let's nail
that minor pentatonic in the key of A.
Third finger.
On the fourth string at the seventh fret,
that's A [SOUND].
First finger [SOUND] third string [SOUND]
third finger [SOUND] first finger
[SOUND] fourth finger
[SOUND] first finger [SOUND].
That's one octave of
the minor pentatonic scale.
Now, it's easy to tack a note on
top there, keep going [SOUND].
Now, what we've got in there is an octave
[SOUND] plus a little extra on top and
a little extra on bottom [SOUND].
And believe it or not that range right
there, that set of notes in that fingering
position is one that you can basically
build a career on as a blues soloist.
The proof of that is listening
to the players who've done it.
T Bone Walker being a notable example.
Basically one position player.
Rarely moved out of that spot.
Spent his whole life playing melodies in
that position within that general range.
And nobody said, hey T-Bone,
man that's not, man you're not making it.
He knew how to play the notes.
That's the importance of not just
the notes, it's how you play the notes.
That's what we need to
attach to these notes.
But we're starting with this,
this sort of skeleton here.
All right so
we've got the minor pentatonic.
And the fingering is simply
one finger per fret [SOUND].
Now, use my fourth finger
on the second string.
Now, that's my weakest finger,
and if i wanna
do something to that which I will later
on, not right at the moment, but later on.
Then I'm gonna switch to my third finger,
but I'll give you a warning
before we do that.
Let's play through that scale together
in the key of A, one note per beat,
make it nice and slow.
I just wanna make sure
you've got these notes down.
We're gonna do one octave for starters.
Starting on A on the fourth string,
seventh fret.
Here we go.
Three, four.
There you go.
Downstrokes, upstrokes, it doesn't matter.
Use your thumb, use your finger,
it doesn't matter at this point, okay?
Now, we transpose chords,
we know how to do the cycle of four so
you can do the same thing with melodies,
with scale patterns like that.
So if I want to locate that
pattern in another key.
I have to know where one is,
and where's one?
Well, one is on the first string and
the fourth string.
Now we haven't really spent any time
talking about those strings but
the fact is, that the first string
[SOUND] the high E string and
the low E string are tuned
exactly the same.
They're just two octaves apart.
So if I know the notes
on the sixth string.
I automatically know the notes
on the fourth string, or
the first string rather [SOUND].
No problem there.
What about the fourth string?
Well, I can use my octave shape.
I play my chord [SOUND].
I've been using that note quite a bit.
So, if this is A, that's A.
Up two frets, over two strings [SOUND].
So I wanna play the minor pentatonic
scale in the key of C, for example.
First I locate C,
first string, first finger,
eighth fret,
[SOUND] corresponding to the sixth string.
[SOUND] By the same token,
fourth string, tenth fret [SOUND].
Same pattern,
one [SOUND].
If I wanna find that same
scale in the key of F?
Where's F?
Well there's F down there [SOUND]
F there [SOUND] F there [SOUND].
Key of F [SOUND]
and so on.
Sorry I can't help myself.
I'm putting a little expression
on that thing right up front.
Now here's your practice routine,
is play that skill.
You know what I'm gonna say.
In all 12 keys, in the cycle of fourths.
All right, so we start with, pick a key.
Let's pick a different key
just to mix things up.
B flat, right?
I'm just gonna give you
the gist of it here.
I'm not gonna spend a lot
of time on it right now.
All right, so B flat.
One octave minor pentatonic scale,
three, four, one [SOUND].
Next scale will be E flat [SOUND] and
next up is A flat [SOUND].
And so on and so on,
you get the idea, right?
So you're giving yourself that extra
beat to get to your new location.
Playing the scale right in tempo and
familiarizing yourself with the fingering.
And with how it lays on the neck and
all the different keys and
starting to see the upper
part of the neck.
And locate your keys using
the high strings, okay.
So with that thought in mind go ahead and
mess around with it a little bit.
Get those twelve keys together and
then we'll start to put
a little power string in there.