Growing “Mature” in Guitar- Moving from Pentatonic to the Major Scale

One day as I develop more free time, and with less devoted to studying for exams, I want to give my “Basic Theory from the School of Hard Knocks” lesson series. This would be basically taking scales and leads and explaining how they work, why they don’t and how to basically play with anyone and act like you know what you are doing. (you old pros are laughing right now because you know the unspoken rule: if you don’t know what’s going on, play lead!)

So here is our favorite friend: the pentatonic scale (G):


This is every guitarists first scale, and it works baby. One honestly feels like a rock star in just a moment after learning this, because it rocks!! I swear today, most of my riffs and things start out from this scale. But the danger is this- most people get stuck in this scale.

Well today, we played “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. We have played this song a million times, and I have always played the same riff I heard on that cd from the 90s. Yep, adventurous, thats me.
Well maybe its the Sudafed I am on, or maybe its the 3rd service having all the energy [
or maybe because I nailed a solo for “Friend of God” in the 2nd service- the spanish service (“Eres Amigo Fiel” as they say) and yes, I am proud of that solo!] but I could NOT play that same riff like I have always done. Well… enter the Major scale:


Notice, there are just a few more notes added to it. Its basically the pentatonic, but the numbers in brackets are the new notes. I love to play my leads/riffs in this pattern with the high e/b strings, as those patterns make great bends, slides and hammer-on/pull-offs. And yes, that is a -1, as the next note in the scale would actually be played lower on the neck, but because we are at 0 (aka: the nut) we can’t move lower.

Here is the scale in A:



I encourage anyone that only knows the pentatonic, pick up those extra notes- it sounds more round, more filling! Chances are if you have been playing any lead, you have picked those notes up already in passing, but didn’t know why they worked. Learn a couple more notes and be the big bad lead guy after all!

Here is a lick I love (with my verbzilla on “Hall” and a slow delay that gives about 3 good repeats)

e-                                    ————————————-3p2p0—
b-                              ——3b~~~1p-0-h1-p0-1~~~ ———–0h1~~~
A –0h2———

With the ~~~ meaning wiggle it.

Yup… something like that. Without those extra notes, the thing would’ve sounded—- bland.
Short post, I know- I’ve cooked up a couple of good ones and should have them out later this week. Look for a review of Boosters coming, followed by a critique of compressors (i know, 2 weeks ago I loved them!) and possibly an overdrive shootout/compressor shootout (with recordings hopefully!).

As Karl says: the best part of being a guitarist is you can love a piece of equipment one week, then hate it the next and the rest of the musicians say “ah, he’s a guitarist.”

Take care  ya’ll!


2 Responses

  1. Playing and phrasing using Major Scales are a welcome break in my playing. Due to the Western tonal system (blah, blah, blah)….it’s just easier for me to hear the intervals and plan ahead in a live setting. In theory. However, I was bred on the pentatonic scale. So when I get nervous (which always happens in front of an audience more than two), my hands will revert back to their Minor Penatonic playing ways. Without accounting for the key change. Imagine and cringe: a great, tasteful and smooth G Minor Pentatonic Riff…in the key of G Major. With lots of delay. With the guest band. Oh well…..

  2. very nice SMC. Welcome to the blog!

    I used to get stuck in the minor pentatonic too!
    Try this– play the same patterns– but if you are playing G, instead of your index finger on G, put your pinky there. Same pattern is played, just lower! Its now major. (see the first pattern above. (its the same as Em pentatonic! 🙂 )

    So you can learn to play in the relative minor key, or do as I do, just know to play the pattern with your pinky on the root for major!

    Hopefully that makes sense!

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