The Foundation

As I mentioned in the introduction, we’re going to use just one scale pattern per scale. While this might seem a little too minimalist for some players, when you understand the guitar’s tuning (what I call the warp factor), you’ll find that one scale pattern covers more than enough of the fretboard for improvisational purposes; plus, you’ll have to try very hard to get lost!

Let’s go through the process with the good old A Minor Pentatonic scale. Remember to get your head around this section before you move on.

Our one, or starter, scale pattern is as follows:

minor pentatonic scale guitar

It’s a one-octave pattern that shouldn’t take you long to learn if you don’t know it already. The benefits of a smaller piece of information are numerous: it’s quick to learn, you can (and should) be aware of the intervals you’re playing, it forces you to be creative as oppose to just blowing up and down a box pattern, and above all you have a greater sense of control over the information.

If we move this entire pattern to the next set of strings (A-D-G), it remains the same.

minor pentatonic scale pattern guitar
So far so good, but if we move to the D-G-B string set, the pattern changes.

minor pentatonic scale permutations guitar

When you tune your guitar, you compare the note on the fifth fret with the open string until you get to the B string where you compare the open string with the note on the fourth fret of the G string. This is because the distance between the G and B strings is a major third instead of a fourth like all the other strings. Look at the pattern above again, it’s actually the same pattern offset by one fret. In other words, when a pattern includes notes that fall on the B string, these notes shift up by one fret; therefore, this is the same pattern just warped by the fretboard.

If we move this pattern to the G-B-E string set, any note that falls on the B string shifts up one fret with the notes on the E string following suit.

minor pentatonic scale permutations across the neck
Again, it’s the same pattern just warped by the fretboard.

In the next diagram, you’ll see how all the above patterns fall on the fretboard and cover a fairly large portion of it.
minor pentatonic scale all one-octave patterns

And these are just the patterns that complete themselves! Once you get comfortable with this way of connecting scale patterns, begin to fill in the gaps with the patterns that don’t complete themselves i.e. continue the scale pattern until you run out of fretboard. This will benefit your ability to use this in all keys as once the basic pattern is established, you’ll be able to fill in the gaps instead of learning endless patterns for each key.

Fingering Patterns

There are a couple of schools of thought here. You could use the same, or pretty much the same, fingering pattern for all the above patterns. The main advantage of this is the fact that the same fingers play the same scale degrees in every pattern, which helps you connect your ear to your fingers. The other way to look at this is to just see the pattern (as it’s such a small piece of information) and use any fingering you like to bring the music out of it. I find that if my hand is in a static position, it’s more likely that my improvisations will sound more scalar rather than melodic. Therefore, I’m more likely to ‘see’ the pattern, then come at it with a variety of fingerings, but I’ll leave it up to you to experiment.

Read next: Practicing
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