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Let's start at the very beginning

When you start to learn improvising, the easiest scale to use is the open position minor pentatonic and as the most common guitar keys in rock tend to be A minor and E minor, this is where we will begin today. The pentatonic works because it misses out the difficult notes. These notes are difficult because they do not overlap several chords and if used in the wrong place they sound pretty dreadful. They sound worse in major keys too, so adapting the minor pentatonic to major improvisation is a neat trick that many guitarists use. When you use the minor pentatonic you need to play simple and short phrases to start with and keep coming back to the root and fifth. Here is an easy version of A minor pentatonic to start with. The root is A and the fifth is E. 


 The E minor pentatonic is just as easy to work with, but the root is now E and the fifth is B. This also includes the bass strings and they sound really good. Try and invent some simple riffs using these notes:



The pentatonic Box

It won't be long before you want to be playing the sort of solos that rock guitarists use and the best scale to start with is the pentatonic box. This is fully moveable so if you have an understanding of keys and a knowledge of note names on string six you can choose an appropriate place to play in the box. Most people start with the A minor pentatonic box.

Again, the most important notes are A and E.  


 This is sometimes erroneously called the blues scale, the blues scale has an extra note though, the flat fifth. You can use it in just the same way if you want a more rocky sound.


Extending the scale

The next move is going to be extending the pentatonic scale and a good place to start is to learn the five different versions of the blues scale. You can move from one shape to another quite easily by using slides and you can move along the strings in either direction. This picture I drew for my article on Hubpages shows the five positions with the root coloured blue and the fifth coloured green. 




For more on extending the pentatonic scale and a whole fretboard approach you can click here:


G Minor Pentatonic

Why G minor? Everyone plays in A or E minor? Well, it's the same shape and while everyone knows the A minor pentatonic box (often wrongly called the blues scale) THEN ALONG COMES SIR  (HI SIR!) AND HE WANTS YOU TO PLAY IT IN G BECAUSE IT'S EASIER FOR THE CLASS!

OK... It's actually pretty easy - and the right key for Smoke On The Water too. Here is the box:

The notes I have highlighted in red are the best ones to start from and keep coming back to when improvising - the root (tonic) and the 5th (dominant)

I call them anchor notes because they keep you safely anchored in the right key.

The notes highlighted green are the best bends. OK - yes! You can bend any note to any other note of the scale, but those are the most commonly used and the easiest to sound good with. Each one should be bent up a full tone (two frets).

If unfamiliar with correct bending technique ask your teacher. You should always "back up" bends for control and power and to avoid injury. This means two or even three fingers push the same string across the fretboard! Great exponents of bending this way are Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B.King, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, Dave Gilmour and of course Jeff Beck.

Now what is really neat about this shape is you can also play and improvise in B flat major just by emphasizing different anchor notes:

The root on 6 is now played by your little finger. You know the shape is moveable so this gives you access to any major key! By adding a couple more notes to make it a blues scale, you can get a fantastic bright happy rock sound!

So, in short the pattern I have drawn for you below is G minor blues scale if you keep emphasizing G and D in your improvising. If you emphasize Bb and F instead it becomes Bb Major Hybrid Blues Scale which is a whole different animal and that is what I call really neat!

Now off y'all go to Sweet Home Alabama....

Diads in G Minor Pentatonic/B flat Major Pentatonic

As promised.... Firstly, a link to a sibelius score:

Diads in G minor pentatonic - click here for free music

Secondly, what is a diad? Simply, it is two notes played together.

These diads are on adjacent strings, therefore easy to use!


Before you tell me, I know there are others, many, many others.... but these are the easily accessible ones that do not involve hybrid picking, muting or finger picking. Of course there are many more in different scale positions too, but this is a start for you to experiment with!