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Fun with Pentatonics

Hello, good evening and welcome! My name is James Went and this is my first ever lesson that I wrote all by myself with only minimal help from my spell checker. Hopefully in this here column I’ll be showing you some approaches to pentatonic soloing that will add some spice (cinnamon for example) into your solos.

But first a little background information on me (it is relevant to the lesson). Ok I’m almost 21 (13/02/02 woohoo!!) and I’ve been playing guitar for about 11 years now. I started out learning classical and then after about 2-3 years of that moved onto ROCK!!!! Hahaha. I suppose my first influences in this genre were Guns ‘n Roses and Nirvana, pretty much the entire grunge movement. After a while, as my playing started to improve, I became fascinated with guitar solos. “How the fuck am I supposed to make something up on the spot?” I asked myself. At first improvisation was difficult but then I discovered this little puppy and after a few awkward first steps I began playing quite competent but basic solo ideas.

I gradually got better and since I was listening to Vai, Dream Theater and anything that I thought was musically different from the shit everyone else seemed to be listening to (there was a big rave/techno scene at the time, 2 unlimited anyone?). I decided it would be a good idea to learn all my modes, and it was.

However all my solos started to sound like linear patterns up and down, and sometimes sideways if I was having a good day. So after a few years I decided to maybe make my playing sound a little bit more ‘hip’ and started fucking about with bluesier licks and experimenting with the pentatonic stuff.

Ok this is starting to sound like a bio, and I really don’t want it to because much like me I guess you all come and look at these lessons for one reason only…to cop as many licks as you can. Yes I can see you nodding your head in agreement! So we shall commence with the lesson. I hope you could see where I was going in trying to explain how I started to mess with this stuff though, maybe even you can relate to it too.

The basics

Ok so just to start us off nice and easy. Here are the basic patterns for the pentatonic minor scale in A.

Shape 1

Shape 2

Shape 3

Shape 4

Shape 5

Ok so I think it’s probably safe to say that you all now a billion different blues licks using shape no. 2. So instead of showing you stuff you already know I’m going veer away from the bluesy stuff and try to demonstrate a few techniques you can apply to these scales to get them sounding more like you and less like Eric Clapton. He’s the best at what he does so why try and sound like him?

No doubt that by the time you get to this bit you will have at least played through all the scales. If you haven’t, do it now! I can wait………..

All righty ho then chaps lets progress!


Right just to state the obvious, a sequence is a group of notes that is repeated. Or that’s my explanation anyway. Here’s a lick in A minor that sounds quite nice when repeated quickly.

Now simply take this pretty basic linear pentatonic thing and play it in octaves for monster lick no. 1. Watch out for the position changes, quite tricky!

There’s a similar thing to this happening in John Petrucci’s solo to ‘Fatal Tragedy’ from Dream Theater’s ‘Scenes from a Memory’. Check it out. It’s nice! I like!

Check this lick out!

Same basic technique as previous lick just with (adopts Nigel Tufnel voice) “more notes. This lick goes up to 11” hahaha

Try changing the grouping of these notes to add variety to these licks. Shawn Lane, Bumblefoot and Mattias Eklundh (Freak Kitchen) all do this to great effect.

For example play the lick above as if it were straight sixteenth notes. EXPERIMENT!!!!!!

Here’s a cool pentatonic thing in D taken from my solo to “Jake and John”, from my band Ten Men Wide’s (http://www.tenmenwide.com) first E.P. “Funtime @ Smokey Joe’s” (http://www.mp3.com/tenmenwide).

String Skipping

No article on string skipping can start without mentioning Paul Gilbert. That guy can certainly pick and jump. Here’s a Gilbert style pentatonic lick in E.

Ok so there’s only one skip there, how about this Shawn Lane/Richie Kotzen type run?

Wow! Now that’s a music store lick if ever I’ve played one! I can see it now… Diddlydiddlydiddlydiddlyetc. “Tell me, do you have this guitar in brown?” hahaha Once again only notes from the pentatonic minor (D in this case) were used. Please note; don’t use these licks in every solo, soundcheck, rehearsal etc. they ARE horribly distasteful and the rest of your band will try to kill you. Keep them for that special occasion where the chance may arise that you can go completely nuts! I.e. not during “The Girl from Ipanema” ;o)

Here’s a string skipping lick that avoids three note per string stuff…


Here’s an early Greg Howe style lick using shapes 2 and 4.

I use tapping all the time; it’s a great way of busting out of ruts and discovering new parts of the fretboard. This is the intro of one of my tunes called “The Chicken Head Tap Dance” (http://www.mp3.com/jameswent).

For something a bit different, try this Bumblefoot (aka Ron Thal) style lick in E minor!

Pretty simple to play, but what an amazing effect!!! If you’re not familiar with any of Ron’s stuff go check it out now! He has to be one of the most underrated of players ever. (http://www.ronthal.com)

Tapping is also a great way of covering large amounts of the fretboard.


Here’s an example of how Frank Gambale might approach a pentatonic lick.

There are many sweep arpeggio shapes that can be derived from the pentatonic minor. The following are all related to E minor pent (E G A B D).

hehehe…..69 ….hehehehe :o)

Now stick ‘em all together and here you have quite a nice Mattias Eklundh style lick…..

So I guess that pretty much concludes the column. I really hope you’ve been able to cop a few licks from me, but more than this it was my intention to inspire you to take this concepts and go come up with your own licks. EXPERIMENT!!!!!!!!!

I’ve had fun doing this lesson and I hope to have more online soon (mail me if you’d like me to discuss any particular subject). I’d like to thank Joel for including me in this great website. In the meantime please check out these websites for further info on me and my music.




You can also email me here:jameswent@hotmail.com


James Went

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