It’s fairly common for intermediate players to get stuck in a pentatonic rut. The problem is usually not the pentatonic scale itself… I mean, just because you’re stuck in a pentatonic rut, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon the pentatonic scale for something else like modes. Besides, there are 330 possible pentatonic scales, and we only use two of them!
Don’t worry, you don’t need to learn another 328 scales; on the contrary, we’re going to stick with box one of the good old A Minor Pentatonic but mix it up a little. The first thing to do is get rid of the 4th so that we have, in essence, a minor 7 arpeggio.
Play through the arpeggio even if you know it. Notice that the missing 4th makes you play it differently and try to do slight bends on the b3 to the 3 in gray–don’t play the 3, it’s just there to remind you to bend up slightly on the b3.
What we’re going to do next is ‘audition’ each of the other intervals to see if we like it or not. First up is the b2; play through the scale, improvise a little and see if you like how it sounds. Get an Am, A or even an A7 (bending the b3 makes it work over all three chords) going in the background if you have a looper.
Did you like the sound? Don’t worry if you didn’t. You might like the regular 2:
The regular 2 isn’t as obvious and gives you a Santana/jazzy feel and if you like it, you now know where it is for the next time you’re stuck in a pentatonic rut.
Our next interval is the b5 (we’ve already got both 3rds in there and the 4th will just give us the pentatonic scale again); this is a sound that I love, and it always reminds me of Jeff Beck’s playing. I don’t know if he purposely swaps the 4 for a b5, but it’s a great sound.
Next up is the b6. This one honestly doesn’t do anything for me, but you might like it, so give it a whirl.
Next, we have the major 6, which is another great interval to throw into a pentatonic scale to liven it up. Robben Ford is a big fan of this one.
Those 6s combined with some sweet b3 bends give you that classic blues sound.
Last up is the natural 7, which will give you a bluesy chromatic effect depending on how long you linger on it.
What just happened?
You actually just learned 6 new pentatonic scales without realizing it, but more importantly, you got out of the pentatonic box and started experimenting with other sounds to find ones that YOU like. What often happens when we get stuck in a pentatonic rut is that the scale pattern dictates what we play, so what we did here was reverse that and choose the intervals/notes we wanted to play.
If you do want to go beyond pentatonics but not abandon them, check out our book, Beyond Pentatonics.