Guitarists tend to get fixated on box 1 of the minor pentatonic scale and milk it to death. You may know the shapes for the other four boxes, but how often do you actually use them? Box 1 is by far the most usable and instantly gratifying of the minor pentatonic boxes, so much so that it creates this phobia of using the others. It seems a shame to waste the other 80% of the fretboard, so I’ve come up with a way you can get comfortable in the other patterns.
In Box 1 it’s very easy to ‘get hold’ of the sound and pretty much play what you want to hear after a while. This is not so easy with the other four boxes, but what you can do is practice in the following way by simply transferring the sounds you know so well from Box 1 to the other Boxes. I thought this was too simple to be true, but it really does work because it takes the already familiar and simply moves it to less familiar place on the neck. Check it out:
In the above diagram you can see G Minor Pentatonic Box 1 up at the 15th fret. The (Layla) notes in red are then marked in other colors down the fretboard. They are the exact same notes, but now you can see how they repeat through the other pentatonic boxes. It figures that whatever you can play up at the 15th fret, you can play at any other location where the same notes are available, including the bends, licks and melodies you would do. Note that the green notes are still the same pattern, they’re just offset by the fretboard—the distance from the G string to the B string is a major third, not a fourth like all the other strings.
Check out the next set of notes:
This time we have a four-note pattern in red in box 1 up at the 15th fret that’s already offset by the fretboard as mentioned above. This is why all the other patterns are different but consistent. These are the same notes you play in Box 1, just in different places, and boxes, on the rest of the neck. Hopefully by drawing your attention to this fact, you’ll start to feel confident about using the other four boxes.
Now that you’ve gotten the hang of this, see if you can work out remaining sets of patterns, and how they repeat, for yourself. Remember that you can play all your treasured licks, bends and runs from box 1 in practically any other minor pentatonic box, thereby losing the fear of the other four boxes!
This pentatonic scales hack is featured in our latest eBook, ‘50 Guitar Hacks for the Advancing Guitarist‘, which you can check out here.