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Pentatonic Scales and secrets of the fretboard

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Nov 15, 2019 - 2:10:33 PM
168 posts since 9/19/2014

Based on a previous topic of "learning by ear", I was tagged and the response was helpful but not fully understood by me.

I know the chords in the Pentatonic Scale. I also have spent much time w/ Geoff Hohwald's book on The Pentatonic Scale, however, still a bit confused on application. Let's take a vocal song, "Little Maggie" or "Man of Constant Sorrow". Do I just add one of Geoff's licks into the chord progression? Somebody help me here.

I believe I know the basics of playing by ear and also faking and improvising a break, but not when it comes to the Pentatonic Scale. Suggestions and practical advice are welcome and perhaps a simple example.

Nov 15, 2019 - 3:03:48 PM

Fathand

Canada

11516 posts since 2/7/2008

I am going to follow this. I always see the advice to "learn scales" pentatonic or otherwise, but very little on what to do with them once you know them.

Nov 15, 2019 - 3:21:03 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

The way I understand it, the pentatonic scale, comprised of the 1,2, 3, 5 and 6 notes of the scale usually make up the majority of the melody notes in a song. At least that's how I've always used them.

As far as plugging in licks, you can plug in a lick anywhere that it fits in a particular chord. Some licks can be played over more than one chord, other licks are chord specific. To learn which is which just takes practice and trial and error. However, just plugging in licks doesn't necessarily make a song sound like the one you want to play. You have to figure out which licks give you the melody notes you need in that particular song; otherwise, you're just playing a bunch of notes with no melody or meaning.

If you're just noodling around, seeing what you can do, you can take the 5 notes of the pentatonic scale and play them in any order over any specific chord and sometimes over more than one chord, according to the notes in the scale. You don't have to stay just with the pentatonic scale, you can add other scale notes, too. Confused? I was when I first started learning to play by ear.

I started out with about half a dozen what I call "melody phrases" that could be plugged into just about song that had that specific chord or chord progression in it. The more you do that, the easier it becomes. The more you noodle around, the more melody phrases you find that will fit into more and more songs. Eventually, you just let your fingers and brain do the work and you really don't think "I'm going to put this lick here and that lick there, you just to it.

I'm sure others will have a better and more musically defined definition than I do.

Nov 15, 2019 - 3:35:47 PM

Mooooo

USA

7193 posts since 8/20/2016

I'm not the kind of guy who plays a bunch of scales and licks in the key for a solo, but it is a valid way to come up with a break to a tune. I try to stick to the melody and try to come up with something interesting along the lines of the melody, kind of like exploring the melody and messing with it a bit, there is a term for that, but I forgot what it's called...

When you want to use the Pentatonic scale you have to find the appropriate "mode" of the Pentatonic scale that works for any particular song. For instance, Little Maggie and Man of Constant Sorrow both use the Pentatonic shape that uses the open notes and 3rd fret of the 1st, 3rd and 4th strings and the 1st fret of the B string. You can play around with those notes and you will be in key while picking along to that song, or you can figure out the other "shapes" further up the neck...for instance the next one up for those songs would be the 3rd fret of all the strings and the 5th fret of the 1st, 3rd and 4th strings. You can easily figure out the next 3 shapes further up the neck by listening to those same 5 notes and applying them up the neck. After the 12th fret the shapes or "modes" repeat.

You can learn a bunch of pentatonic licks to pick in between melody notes that lead you to the next chord or next melody note, and you don't have to strictly stick to only those 5 notes. You can pick notes in between the shapes, using hammers, pull-offs or slides. Get creative and experiment, your ears will tell you what sounds good and the only way to get good at it is to practice...over and over. Have fun.

Nov 15, 2019 - 3:56:50 PM
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5494 posts since 3/6/2006

If you are talking about the major pentatonic scale(GABDE), those 2 songs you mention are not good vehicles for it. Try something solidly in the key of G major like Will the Circle be Unbroken and mess around with that scale over the chords. 

Nov 15, 2019 - 6:17:24 PM

USAF PJ

USA

168 posts since 9/19/2014

Sherry, do you have an example of a "melody phrase" that you can post to this thread?

Laurence when I arrive at C in the tune, how would a Pentatonic lick be applied?

Nov 15, 2019 - 7:29:49 PM
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KCJones

USA

554 posts since 8/30/2012
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I'm just learning this stuff too, and am at the point where I'm just starting to see the light so I want to share but I really can't type it out very well. One thing to keep in mind is that a 'pentatonic scale' is just a scale with 5 notes in it. There's minor pentatonics, major pentatonics, and many more. Which scale is correct depends on the individual song.

Playing a pentatonic scale or a generic lick in the right key will 'work', in that you won't hit any sour notes if you stay in the key, but it doesn't necessarily give you the melody. But, knowing the pentatonic scale of the key signature will greatly improve your success in finding the melody through trial and error.

John Boulding has a spectacular playlist that describes practical application of pentatonic scales. Check it out, it's very useful and has helped me a lot.

youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYr...CKCjJ2ixd
 

Edited by - KCJones on 11/15/2019 19:44:25

Nov 15, 2019 - 9:21:50 PM

5494 posts since 3/6/2006

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

Sherry, do you have an example of a "melody phrase" that you can post to this thread?

Laurence when I arrive at C in the tune, how would a Pentatonic lick be applied?


You could play C pentatonic there because you will want to get that C note in and it is not part of the G pent scale

Edited by - Laurence Diehl on 11/15/2019 21:22:18

Nov 16, 2019 - 4:33:15 AM
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3232 posts since 7/12/2006

Pat Clouds book Key to the 5 String Banjo is an excellent intro to pentatonics and how they relate to the banjo fretboard. I highly reccommend it.

Edited by - stanleytone on 11/16/2019 04:33:40

Nov 16, 2019 - 4:44:53 AM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

USAF PJ

I used to have a page of tabbed out melody phrases. Haven't looked for them for years. Don't know where they are. If I can find them, I'll try to post them on here.

Most of the melody phrases I use I've come up with over time with trial and error at jams and I don't have any tabs of those at all.

Nov 16, 2019 - 5:43:54 AM

KennyB

Canada

205 posts since 10/25/2007

I'll second the recommendation for Pat Cloud's book.
He also has some very good material on his website. Like this one.
patcloud.com/index.php/videos/...positions

Nov 16, 2019 - 7:25:12 AM

1352 posts since 2/10/2013

John Boulding has some Youtube videos where he provides information.
I have Geoff Hohwalds book on MINOR pentatonic scales. It does NOT address major pentatonic scales. John Bouldings approach to teaching this material is very effective.

I am familiar with the major pentatonic scales and their value. But at the present time I am just dealing with the minor pentatonic scale. With the exception of a "flattened" 5th note, the minor pentatonic scale is the same as a blues scale. So I am just using minor pentatonic licks to add a "bluesy" flavor to a tune.
I disagree with Geoff Hohwald on one thing. I don't think a tune is or is not a candidate for minor pentatonic licks. Granted, some tunes "beg" for minor pentatonic licks. Two examples are Man of Constant Sorrow and Wild Bill Jones. But often there are tunes where a musical phrase(s) can be changed to a minor pentatonic lick and sound right. By trial an error, a person gradually develops a feel for where they will work. Take a tune like Little Maggie or Salt Creek and try substituting minor pentatonic licks for the original licks. Start out just changing one or two phrases to a minor pentatonic lick. I practice the exercises on pages 43-45 every day. I play each exercise 3 times. These 3 exercise include everything he teaches in the book. I did work my way through all the material in the book before I started doing that.
As I practice playing the tunes I already know, I just try to apply some of the material I learned to tunes. Sometime it works, sometime it doesn't. But it is seldom a disaster and I keep learning and becoming more comfortable using the minor pentatonic techniques.

Just keep practicing the material in Geoff's book, and keep trying to use it.
Force yourself to also try the "up the neck" material in his book. The minor pentatonic licks in the first part of the book are relatively easy to learn and use, so don't just focus on learning how to use those 6 licks.

When learning, being aware of exactly which notes you are playing. This effort will be a big help in familiarizing you with the fingerboard. This can be a big help when you improvise. Watch John Bouldings Youtube videos on pentatonic scales, especially minor pentatonic scales.

Nov 16, 2019 - 1:17:50 PM

USAF PJ

USA

168 posts since 9/19/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand

I am going to follow this. I always see the advice to "learn scales" pentatonic or otherwise, but very little on what to do with them once you know them.


Thanks everyone for your comments and advice. I am w/ Rick on this one. What do you do w/ them? I looked at Pat's video but not exactly sure what to do. I did see John's videos a while ago so I will go back, but same thought, how and when do you use them?

Nov 16, 2019 - 2:23:25 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

@USAF PJ

I don't think "scales" when I'm improvising, whether it be pentatonic, major, minor or anything else. I think "melody notes". Once you find the melody notes, then the rest of what you play is filler.

Noodle around on you banjo with a song you can sing or hum. Try to figure out the melody notes, nothing else. Start out with your pentatonic scale notes. Be sure each note is in the correct measure and on the correct beat. After you get that figured out, then work out the filler notes. Try sliding into a melody note, then finishing off with a pinch or a partial roll. Try slide or hammer to a melody note and don't put in any filler (rests are also important in music, although most people don't think about them). When you finish a musical phrase (say at the last of a verse of a song), then put in a chord specific hot lick or two (if you have enough measures to do so).

A majority of melody notes are on the 1, 3 or 5 notes of the scale, so try those notes first when looking for a melody. If none of those work, then try the 2 and 6th notes. All that's left are 4 and 7, so if all else fails, try those two notes.

Does that help any on what to do with all the notes we've talked about?

Nov 16, 2019 - 3:11:59 PM

USAF PJ

USA

168 posts since 9/19/2014

Quick questions. Sherry you're talking Pentatonic Scale correct? A, D, G

Or major scale?
So if I go to Pat Clouds quick 40 second video as he plays them, is this a way to accomplish what you are advising.

Thanks for all you do!

Nov 16, 2019 - 3:43:21 PM

lature

USA

115 posts since 12/11/2017

If you are playing Scrugg's style you are already playing pentatonic scales all over the place.

Take a look at the attached tab for Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I removed all the hammers, pull-offs and slides to make it more obvious.

For all the G chords he only plays G major pentatonic scale notes.

The hammers and slides etc. just add emphasis and coolness. So a 2-3 hammer is just a way of making a D note stand out. If you start analyzing the C#-D hammer as part of a blues scale you will end up with a head-ache.


Nov 16, 2019 - 7:28:42 PM

chuckv97

Canada

44647 posts since 10/5/2013
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by KennyB

I'll second the recommendation for Pat Cloud's book.
He also has some very good material on his website. Like this one.
patcloud.com/index.php/videos/...positions


Sounds like a Renaissance lute music

Nov 16, 2019 - 7:47:01 PM
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2506 posts since 4/19/2008

Nov 17, 2019 - 4:52:33 AM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

Quick questions. Sherry you're talking Pentatonic Scale correct? A, D, G

Or major scale?
So if I go to Pat Clouds quick 40 second video as he plays them, is this a way to accomplish what you are advising.

Thanks for all you do!


The pentatonic scale is different for each chord; i.e., G pentatonic is G, A, B, D, E.    The C pentatonic scale is C, D, E, G, A and so on.   And I'm talking major scales only here.

Nov 17, 2019 - 12:04:41 PM

Fathand

Canada

11516 posts since 2/7/2008

Thanks for all you do!

The pentatonic scale is different for each chord; i.e., G pentatonic is G, A, B, D, E.    The C pentatonic scale is C, D, E, G, A and so on.   And I'm talking major scales only here.


Are you saying you have to change scale with every chord change? I thought it was with key changes?

Nov 17, 2019 - 1:24:02 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

Fathand The key of the song doesn't usually change, it usually stays the same. Let's say we're in the key of G. In that KEY, you have different CHORDS. Usually, in an easy bluegrass song, you have the chords G, C, and D( with sometimes off chords of Em and Am and very occasionally Fdim.) So, yes, you change with the chords, not the key.

Now, if you know your scales, you know that many scales have many of the same notes, so as long as you don't hit a sour note, you're okay playing most any note in the scale. (I'm talking major scales here, not minor and not modes.) So, in the key of G, you can play most G, C and D scales.

I tend to think phrases and licks rather than scales, but in those phrases and licks are scalar patterns usually.

Does that confuse you enough? I know it did me when I first started.

Edited by - Texasbanjo on 11/17/2019 13:25:02

Nov 17, 2019 - 1:45:09 PM

Lew H

USA

2318 posts since 3/10/2008

The notes of pentatonic scales differ a bit depending on the mode. In old time banjo, we play in Dorian pentatonic quite a bit and tune the banjo to bring out the scale notes. That would be sawmill tuning, or G modal (tuned to a Gsus4 chord). I think the Dorian pentatonic scale note in G would be G, B flat, C, D, F. In bluegrass, Clinch Mt. Backstep is in Dorian pentatonic, except for the approach to the backstep.

Nov 18, 2019 - 5:00:47 AM
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331 posts since 2/6/2018

Awesome recommendation Gary. I just got the book and it's amazing. Like none other. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Originally posted by stanleytone

Pat Clouds book Key to the 5 String Banjo is an excellent intro to pentatonics and how they relate to the banjo fretboard. I highly reccommend it.


Nov 18, 2019 - 5:37:25 AM

3232 posts since 7/12/2006

pat cloud is a hangout member. he might like to hear you say that

Nov 18, 2019 - 6:09:18 AM

331 posts since 2/6/2018

I did! On his last post (Over the Rainbow). Thanks again.

Nov 18, 2019 - 7:09:17 AM
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Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

40032 posts since 3/7/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Lew H

The notes of pentatonic scales differ a bit depending on the mode. In old time banjo, we play in Dorian pentatonic quite a bit and tune the banjo to bring out the scale notes. That would be sawmill tuning, or G modal (tuned to a Gsus4 chord). I think the Dorian pentatonic scale note in G would be G, B flat, C, D, F. In bluegrass, Clinch Mt. Backstep is in Dorian pentatonic, except for the approach to the backstep.


Sometimes I think that we in Old Time Banjo don't talk the same language as those in Bluegrass banjo. I (Old time) think of pentatonic as a scale/mode for a tune, a whole tune, for example Clinch Mountain Backstep (which I prefer to call Lonesome John), Pretty Polly and Cluck Old Hen. Those Bluegrassers seems to talk more about licks in a tune and about chords when discussing pentatonic scales.

By the way, I learned Shady Grove in some kind of pentatonic scale bases on G, A, C, D, and F, played in Sawmill tuning. I think those tones are in the Dorian mode too, and it is based on a pentatonic scale.

Another thought, based on listening to Old Time music, is that often the core melody is pentatonic, but when the fiddlers add ornaments (read "melodic") they involves all notes in the major or minor scale or the current mode.

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