Most guitar players will be familiar with the minor pentatonic scale and will have memorised its pattern and intervals to deploy it liberally when soloing. It was probably the first scale many of us learned.
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The '2-note-per-string shape' (2nps) of the minor pentatonic scale is easy to remember, and because it is typically fretted by our strongest fingers – index and ring – it makes it an expressive shape for guitar players. We can hold those notes and bend them, and move between strings quickly, and it is easy to organise our alternate picking when there is just one downstroke and upstroke per string.
But sometimes the boxy shape of the 2nps minor pentatonic scale is all too easy to get stuck in. Sometimes you need to mix it up and find new shapes to lift your playing.
What if we were to integrate some 3 note-per-string (3nps) blues scale shapes and 3-1-3 pentatonic shapes into our minor pentatonic scale? Then we would have a number of very simple note patterns that will not only help you to add some speed to your licks but that will offer more musical possibilities.
The speed comes from an efficiency of movement. Incorporating these 3nps blues scale shapes and 3-1-3 pentatonic shapes into the 2nps minor pentatonic scale requires little movement from your wrist, and the less distance your hand travels the better.
The possibilities come from incorporating the extra notes and knowing wherever you land you will be in key. While it is a little more work for your fretting hand, and will require more concentration on getting your alternate picking right, the technique required is a manageable step up from playing the first position blues scale.
Here we will take take a look the shape of the first position blues scale in E, and then add 3nps shapes, before then incorporating a 3-1-3 pentatonic shape into a sequence.
The blues scale
The blues scale is a very similar formula to the minor pentatonic. Simply adding the flattened fifth of the root note ( in E, that is Bb), or the so-called blue note, changes the minor pentatonic to the blues scale.
For a primer on the blues scale see here.
The blues scale with 3 note-per-string shapes
Take a look again at the first position E blues scale shape. It is a hybrid of the 2nps configuration of the minor pentatonic with 3nps on the A and G strings.
Now we add a couple of 3nps patterns on the G and B strings, and then the B and E strings. These new shapes sit will be used in the example licks and once learned can be used as a springboard for mixing up your minor pentatonic with more expressive note choices from the blues scale.
The blues scale with 3-1-3 shape
Here the 3-1-3 shape is incorprated to the first, second and third strings. The shape takes its name from its 3-notes-per-string, 1-note-per-string, 3-notes-per-string configuration.
Again, this shows how different shapes of the blues scale can be nested inside the minor pentatonic shape to offer more note choices within the scale.
As the 3nps shapes above, this configuration of the scale takes a little more practice to get the fingering and picking right but will reward you with more note choices.