Adding Notes To The Minor Pentatonic Scale: Lesson 1

If you’ve been using the minor pentatonic scale in your guitar solos for a long time, then you already know just how profoundly useful this scale is. It sounds great, works well in a wide range of musical settings, and can be used to generate an almost endless supply of musical ideas.

So what’s the problem?

Well, like anything, too much of one thing can get a bit boring. While the minor pentatonic scale certainly has a cool sound, it also sounds, well…like the minor pentatonic scale. :-) So if you’re getting a bit sick of it’s sound, it’s nice sometimes to “tweak it” to create some new sounding ideas in your guitar solos.

What I mean by “tweaking it”, is to add extra notes to it. I call these extra notes colour notes, and they can really breathe new life into the minor pentatonic scale.

I should mention here that all the music theory pedants out there reading this will be saying “But it’s no longer the minor pentatonic scale if you add extra notes to it!”. And, of course, they’re right—but we’re still going to ignore their comment. What I’m primarily concerned with right now is showing you how, by adding a new note to the minor pentatonic scale, you can expand your soloing vocabulary in a very simple way. We’ll leave the music theory debates for those types of guitarists who spend countless hours arguing about trivial things on guitar forums.

Adding The 2

In this lesson we’re going to focus on adding one of my favourite colour notes to the minor pentatonic scale…the 2. Just in case you don’t know what I mean by this, it’s probably a good idea if we do a quick review of some important theory. Here’s a table that shows the A Major scale written out…

Table 1: A Major Scale

A Major Scale Table

Notice how there are some numbers written above the note names of this scale? These numbers are called scale degrees. When I refer to adding the to the minor pentatonic scale, I mean that you should add the note with the number 2 above it. In the example shown in the table above, that would mean adding a note to the A Minor Pentatonic scale. This would essentially create a new scale that would look like this…

 Table 2: A Minor Pentatonic Scale With Added 2

A Minor Pentatonic Scale + 2

Putting It Into Practice

Let’s now take this theory and put it into practice. To get started, here’s a diagram showing you Fingering Two of the A Minor Pentatonic scale…

 A Minor Pentatonic: Fingering Two

A Minor Pentatonic: Fingering 2

[Side Note: I’m assuming that you already know how to play this fingering. But if you don’t, please take some time now to memorize it].

Let’s now add the to this fingering. I’ve highlighted the 2‘s to make them stand out a bit more on the fretboard diagram below…

A Minor Pentatonic: Fingering Two with added 2

A Minor Pentatonic + 2: Fingering 2

Before you move onto the next part of the lesson, please play through this fingering a few times. Rather than seeing it as a totally new scale, focus on seeing where the lies in relation to the normal minor pentatonic scale notes. (Notice how the is always one half-step below the b3).

Technique Integration

It’s very important when you add a colour note to a fingering of the minor pentatonic scale that you learn to technically integrate that note into the fingering. If you don’t do this, then it will always feel physically awkward to play the fingering with the extra note. This awkwardness will then make it harder for you to use the colour note when you improvise.

For this reason, we’re now going to look at a useful exercise that helps integrate the into Fingering 2. It uses a melodic pattern that I call ascending 3’s

Ascending 3’s Melodic Pattern Exercise

Ascending 3's Melodic Pattern Exercise

I like to play this exercise using alternate picking starting with a downstroke. But feel free to use any picking approach that you want to. :-)

An Example Lick

Another fantastic way of becoming comfortable with the added 2, is to learn and practice licks that use it. Doing this is really important for a few main reasons…

  • It helps you to expand your soloing vocabulary.
  • It helps you to learn how to use the in a musical way.
  • It helps you to recognize the sound of the in a musical context.

For this lesson, let’s look at a lick that I prepared earlier…

Example Lick: A Minor Pentatonic with added 2

Example Lick: A Minor Pentatonic with added 2

On the video below demonstrating this lick, I play it in a couple of different ways…

  • Using eighth-notes as the timing. This is how the lick is written in the TAB above, and it means that you should play the lick using two evenly-spaced notes per metronome click.
  • Using a double-time approach to playing the lick. This is for more advanced players who would find the eighth-notes not challenging enough. For this approach, you would play all of the notes of the lick as sixteenth-notes. This means that you would play the lick using four evenly-spaced notes per metronome click.

If you’re not sure of what I mean by the above, then it’s very important that you watch the following video of me playing the lick. Often things that are confusing in text, will make a heck of a lot more sense when you can see and hear them. :-)

A Few Last Words

That’s all for now. I hope I’ve given you a few new ideas to start working on.

Have fun!

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