Lesson on Major Pentatonic Boxes pt1

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Melodic Pentatonic Shape Shifter

When you study melody you start to notice some interesting traits. Some of which seem to go against most instincts of guitarists.

What happens when you place a guitar in the hands of a guitarist and ask them to lead? There tends to be a steady stream of notes that run the whole fretboard.

There is nothing wrong with this. However, if this is the substance of your entire solo you’re likely to bore people.

Melody makes the world go round. I tend to believe this anyway.

The Octave Ceiling

One of the biggest take aways from studying most melody lines is they rarely   travel over an octave in range. Notice I said usually. There are no hard and fast rules in music.

Consider the one octave range and then reflect on your own soling. How often do you approach melody that way?

A prime example of someone who made the most out of roughly an octave in soling is Freddy King. He really knew how to make his guitar sing.

It wasn’t just what guitar or amp he was using. There tends to be a lot of focus on gear when to comes to observing the greats. I’m a gear addict too, but I think it’s important to separate it’s importance.

Neck and Neck

For the purpose of this guitar lesson, I want to focus on a familiar neck position. The good old blues box. Only, we’re not going to play the blues box. Rather, we’re going to look at how to play major pentatonic scales near that position.

For the most part we’re going to focus on a one octave range or less. Sometimes, limitations can be your biggest strength.

Familiar But Foreign Territory

Some of you may already be aware of the major pentatonic scale and their classic rock/country positions.

What’s nice about the position I’m about to show is the way it integrates into rhythm playing.

Groove Thang

It’s good when soloing to think of a bigger picture. Rhythm comping is so important in playing. In fact you’ll do way more of this then solving in your career.

Also, I tend to not think of rhythm and solo guitar as being separated. You can’t play great leads if you don’t have a really solid handle on rhythm.

Nuts and Bolts

For this lesson we’re going to work in the key of D. We’re going to look at a I IV V progression. This is a very common set of changes for blues, rock, pop and soul music.

We’re going to set up camp in one position of the neck too. I’m not opposed to traveling the neck. I do it often. But, some applications require a more “local” approach.

Example 1

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D Maj Pentatonic Scale based around the 10th fret D chord shape.

You should notice that the familiar D Minor Pentatonic Scale also sits in this area.

Notice it’s a one octave range. You have everything you need right here to create a nice vocal like melody.

Example B

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This is a little extension of the box. Sure, it’s only one more note. I like to approach the root from the 6th below sometimes.

In the case of the Key of D, this note is a B. Now, we know that’s not a chord tone. So, we won’t be resolving to this note. Unless… It happens to sound right. Remember what I said about no hard and fast rules.

Example 3

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This is a one octave range of the G Major Pentatonic scale closest in position to the D major Pentatonic box.

Example 4

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This is the G Major Pentatonic Box Extended. You’ll notice the scale now climbs up to the 6th (E) of the scale. Again, not really a resolving tone….or maybe…. Music is so ambiguous.

Example 5

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This is a one octave range of the A Major Pentatonic scale closest in position to the D major Pentatonic box.

Example 6

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I extended the scale to rise over an octave and end on the 5th (E). This is a resolution note.

Example 7

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We’re going to strip down the scales a little to mainly focus on the top 3-4 strings. Remember what I said about limitations?


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We’re going to pair these stripped down boxes with a chord progression.

When we play the D chord, we play the D stripped scale.

When we play the G chord we play the G stripped down scale.

When we play the A chord we play the A stripped down scale.

A lot of melodies start and end on a chord tone. This is an important tid bit to know when soloing.

In the example I’m going to start and end on the root, 3rd or 5th of each chord.

D major = D F# A

G Major = G B D

A Major = A C# E

You’ll find each of these notes inside the corresponding major penitence scale.


Check out the Major Pentatonic Video


By now you’re starting to see how knowing all the notes on the guitar neck is useful.

Integrate this concept into your rehearsal regimen for a month and see how it improves your sense of melodic phrasing.


For more info on learning music theory

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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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