As I’ve been getting more into playing with modes, there are still times where I sometimes blank; or sometimes, I’m just not “feeling it,” but I have to play a quick solo. In that case, I fall back into the venerable, old minor pentatonic scale. Yeah, it can be pretty boring, but there are a few ways to liven things up. I found some cool videos on YouTube with the same info I learned over the years that has helped me get beyond the monotony.
1. This one is my personal favorite, and something I’ve used A LOT over the years. It’s presented by Scott Henderson. In essence, he demonstrates a way to use the minor pentatonic scale in a modal way.
2. This next one I learned years ago to break out of the “box” patterns and play the minor pentatonic up and down the fretboard.
3. Here are a couple of ideas of playing “outside:”
Of course, knowing the patterns and playing them effectively are two completely different animals. Especially with the pentatonic scale, it is VERY easy to sound like you’re playing a bunch of scales; especially if you play the notes in order and even more so if you always start at the root note (of which I admit is something that took me a long time to break myself). Even if you’re playing in the box, you can add chromatic passing notes (as in the blues scale that adds a flat-5), and more importantly, you can break up the monotony simply by doing rhythmic embellishments like playing in groups of triplets and also adding sustained notes to let your solo breath.
I’ve garnered a lot inspiration from studying how Slash plays. Even though he has tons of speed, the thing that I feel sets him apart from other rock guitarists is his melodic expression and especially his use of rhythm in his solos. Here’s Slash playing the theme from The Godfather. When he gets into his improv section, look at/listen for the little nuances he adds to what he’s playing to add depth to his solo. It’s all happening pretty fast, but he doesn’t sound like a wall of sound:
And guess what, he’s mostly in the minor pentatonic scale, but adds some diminished passing notes. Pretty amazing stuff!