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Learning The Important Guitar Scales and Arpeggios In 5 Patterns

May 5, 2008
It is crucial to learn this scale in all 5 patterns, thereby bringing about the ability to play the scale in all areas of the guitar neck rather than just one. The first scale is master is the G Minor Pentatonic. After discovering the five patterns of this scale in G Minor Pentatonic , it becomes conceivable then to improvise lead anyplace on the neck over any rock tunes in the key of G Minor (such as the famous riff from "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple). The Minor Pentatonic scale is the 1st and most critical scale to learn, especially for blues and rock n' roll. This scale is indeed utilised by blues guitar players as well, though far less often compared to rock and jazz players.

The 2d scale to learn and take control of is the Major Pentatonic scale. The difference between the use of the two scales plainly is that guitar players broadly speaking tend to play Minor Pentatonic when the tune is in a minor key, and Major Pentatonic when the tune is in a major key. In explaining this scale, I'm going to attempt to clear up by introducing a music theory subject, specifically the subject of minor and relative major, in a fashion apprehensible to most anybody. To begin, let's start with A Minor Pentatonic; in essence, taking the G Minor Pentatonic scale patterns diagrammed on the Cyberfret website and moving each pattern two frets up. In spelling out the notes of the A Minor Pentatonic scale, we have:

A C D E G

By learning the Minor Pentatonic scale, in reality we also learn the Major Pentatonic scale as well. This is because the Minor Pentatonic scale and the Major Pentatonic scale have the same notes when separated by a minor third (i.e. three frets), with the major higher by a minor third in relation to its minor. So for example, A Minor Pentatonic and C Major Pentatonic (the relative major, up a minor third from A Minor) have the same notes, only different roots. The notes for C Major Pentatonic then are:

C D E G A

Thus, A Minor Pentatonic in Pattern 4 is going to have the exact same fingering as C Major Pentatonic in Pattern 3; this duplication occurs with respect to the other patterns as well.

Lastly with reference to the Pentatonic scales, rock guitar players on occasion will apply these two scales interchangeably: that is, they will play both the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales with the song remaining in the same key throughout the solo section. An example is Jimmy Page's solo on "Nobody's Fault But Mine", where he begins the solo in E Minor Pentatonic, switches to E Major Pentatonic, back to E Minor Pentatonic, and concludes the solo in E Major Pentatonic. The use of the two pentatonic scales interchangeably is another beneficial rock and blues guitar lead technique to know and be aware of.

The next scale of importance to learn is the MAJOR SCALE. Of all the scales in existence that a guitar player should have comfortably in hand(s), this is THE ONE. True, the Minor and Major Pentatonic scales come first with respect to rock n' roll, but the Major scale is used in all types of Western music: rock, jazz, country, classical, just about everything in between. In fact, the Major scale is the foundation for our entire system of Western music: chords, scales, keys, modes, all of these derive their basis from the Major scale. Knowing this scale on the guitar in the five patterns is indispensable. Incidentally, the web site http://www.theguitarfiles.com/scale.php is another good (and free) online source for building both the Major and the Major Pentatonic scales (and many other scales as well).

The Major scale is the same as the Major Pentatonic scale, with two extra notes. Thus, in the key of C we have:

C D E F G A B

This scale can make any rock or blues guitar solo more interesting. Let's say we have a simple rock power chord progression that's in the key of A Minor, going from A to C to D to C then back to A. Of course, we could play A Minor Pentatonic over this progression and it would sound fine. Still, playing only one scale over a rock progression becomes dull and tiresome in a hurry. Luckily, there are other alternatives. The better choice that will work and sound great every time over a minor chord progression that isn't too exotic is to play the major scale relative to the song's minor key. So, over the above chord progression, we would play A Minor Pentatonic (with bends) and as well as adding in notes from its relative major, the C Major scale. To turn back slightly, if we wanted to make our solo for "Smoke On The Water" more fascinating, we would play B Flat Major. Again, Jimmy Page allows for another good solo example, this time with reference to the major scale. On "Achilles Last Stand", even although the underlying bass riff during the solo section is in E Minor, every note that Page plays in the solo is a note discovered in the G Major scale, the relative major of E Minor. In short, understanding and being able to improvise using this scale opens up a much wider range of possibilities in rock n' roll than just using the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales alone.

I like to contrast the differences between rock and jazz guitar lead playing when introducing the subject of arpeggios because playing arpeggios is generally more difficult than playing scales, just as jazz is generally more difficult to improvise than rock n' roll (a point that could potentially stir some debate). Lead guitar for rock and jazz is fundamentally different from each other in three aspects that come to mind offhand:

(1) Jazz guitar players rarely bend strings on the guitar when playing lead, whereas rock guitar players bend strings frequently:

(2) Jazz guitar lead is more "straight-ahead"; that is, it tends to consist of eighth notes, sixteenth notes and triplets that fall on the beat; rock and blues guitar lead, on the other hand, is much more syncopated, with triplets and eighth and sixteenth notes falling on the off beat or sustaining over the beat, which makes writing the lead out on tablature and/or notation quite a bit more difficult, and:

(3) Jazz guitarists make frequent use of chromatic ideas and octaves in their lead playing; rock guitarists typically don't.

Simply defined, arpeggios are chords, played one note at a time. The reason arpeggios are more difficult to play on the guitar (perhaps more so than on any other instrument) when compared to scales is because string skipping and sweep picking techniques need to be used to play them effectively. Arpeggios that are played cleanly, however, sound very melodic and add dimension and power to any given solo. In my view, it is definitely worthwhile to learn arpeggios and eventually be able to play them well.

There are five types of arpeggios that are commonly considered the basic arpeggios; the major, minor, major seventh, minor seventh, and dominant seventh. The major and minor arpeggios (also called "triads" because they are composed of three notes) are important to know primarily for rock guitar lead playing. The major seventh and minor seventh arpeggios are indispensable for jazz guitar improvisation, mainly because it's difficult, if not impossible, to find a jazz standard that doesn't have a major seventh or minor seventh chord in it. The dominant seventh arpeggio is important to know for jazz and particularly blues because the twelve bar blues is composed entirely of dominant seventh chords.

Diminished arpeggios should also be considered among the basic arpeggios but are somewhat tricky and require more attention. There is the diminished triad, the diminished seventh arpeggio, and the half diminished seventh arpeggio. The diminished triad is the same as the other two, only without the seventh; the diminished seventh arpeggio is symmetrical because it ascends in minor thirds ad infinitum; the half diminished seventh arpeggio is built from the seventh degree of the major scale (commonly known as the "minor seventh flat five" among jazz musicians) and has a minor seventh rather than a diminished seventh. The diminished seventh arpeggio is popular among many rock guitarists (probably because it can be played extremely fast with practice); the half diminished seventh arpeggio (along with the jazz melodic minor scale) tends to be popular with jazz players; the diminished triad is used by both rock and jazz guitarists, but to a lesser degree than their diminished and half diminished seventh counterparts.

This easy approach defined here is conceptually simple, but not easy. My hope is that the information in this report will help make your musical experience less mystifying and more pleasurable
About the Author
Zack R is the founder of 50 Blues Studios. If you are a blues musician, find out how blues guitar backing tracks will improve your blues guitar playing skills. Listen to the free blues backing tracks and start jamming right now.
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