Building Solos With The Pentatonic Scale





The root word "penta" means five. You know, like the Pentagon, the 5-sided building in Washington, D.C. The reason the Pentatonic Scale is named as such is because, you guessed it, it's a 5-note scale! So why do we call it the Penta-tonic scale? Let me give you my interpretation. The tonic note in any scale can be thought of as "home-base" for lack of a better description. A more official definition of the term tonic would be something like this:

Tonic: The key center, or foundation of, a scale or melody.

For example, in the key of G, the tonic is the G note. That means that every note in the G major scale is referenced back to the G note, i.e., the A is the 2nd, the B is the 3rd, the C is the 4th and so on. When you hear the notes of a major scale being played, you notice a very familiar set of note relationships. Two of the notes, however are very elastic in nature. An "elastic" note is one that creates harmonic tension and the listener has a tendancy to want it to move to another note rather than staying on that note. This is a very difficult thing to explain but is easily demonstrated.

Check out the fingerboard below. The notes of the G major scale are highlighted for you. When you click on any of the notes you'll hear the sound of that note and the G major chord strummed in the background. Sounding the chord in the background helps you to hear how each of the notes of the G major scale relate to the G chord. First you can step through each of the notes by clicking the STEP > button and then rewind. Now, click on the C note several times and listen to how it sounds. Notice that it really doesn't fit the G chord, however, you can move quickly to the B note and it sounds ok. However, if you continue to sound the C note while hearing the G chord in the background you'll find that it gets a little irritating to most folks. The C note is the 4th note of the G major scale. So we could say that the 4th note of the major scale creates a little tension in relationship to the tonic chord.


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Now click on the F# note several times. It also creates a little tension in relation to the tonic chord, although probably to a lesser degree than the C note. All the other notes in the scale seem to fit the chord just fine. Give it a try, click all the other notes of the scale and see what you think.HOW IT IS DERIVED FROM THE MAJOR SCALEAs a review, you'll notice that there are 7 notes in any major scale. In the G major scale the notes as seen above are:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F#
1  2  3  4  5  6  7 

If we remove the 2 tension-creating notes discussed earlier, namely the 4th and the 7th, we end up with a 5-note scale and there you have it! The pentatonic scale is just a major scale without the 4th and 7th notes. By removing these 2 notes, you get a very stable-sounding scale. All the notes of the G Pentatonic scale fit the G chord as well as many of the other chords in the key of G. Take a look at the notes once again without the 4th and 7th.

G   A   B   D   E
1   2   3   5   6

When you play the notes of a pentatonic scale there is almost the sense that there is no tonic note, or home-base note because the scale just sort of rambles up and down never seeming to go anywhere, musically-speaking. That's why it is said to be PentaTONIC. It almost seems to have 5 Tonic notes. Playing up and down the scale, you'll notice that the Pentatonic Scale has almost an Eastern quality. If you've ever sat in a Chinese restaurant and listened to the music you'll recognize what I'm talking about right away.WHY IT WORKS SO WELL AS A TOOL FOR ROCK SOLOINGGiven the discussion in the previous section, you won't be surprised to hear that the reason it works so well for soloing is that you just can't hit a wrong note! You can burn all up and down the neck and sound like you know where all the right notes are, and of course, if you learn the pentatonic scale fingerings in this lesson, you will know where they are.

There are a couple of problems associated with using the major scale for a rock soloing.

  • The major scale is often too "pretty" and doesn't fit the grind of a rock solo
  • You might have a tendancy to forget where the 4th and 7th are, thereby playing them where they don't fit the chord.
So learn the fingerings in the main lesson window and practice moving from one fret position to another staying in the same pentatonic scale. Good Pickin'


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