30-day guitar challenge: It's common for guitarists to reach a plateau whereby they have the five pentatonic scale shapes down but struggle with the challenge of using those shapes in a musical way. Rather than thinking of it as "pentatonic hell", we'd say this is a great starting point to build upon.
Targeting notes from chords is often the Holy Grail for aspiring lead guitarists, the idea being to 'spell out' chord changes in your solo lines. Using this approach can help you sound more in keeping with the backing instruments, and when those ideas are framed around the easy-to-remember pentatonic shapes, you needn't be far out of your comfort zone either.
Here we outline some changes you can make to the basic minor pentatonic scale in order to imply the sound of other chords. Simply start by adding just one or two extra notes to the minor pentatonic scales and you'll get the idea.
Basic minor 7th chord tones
The minor pentatonic scale (1 b3 4 5 b7) and the minor 7th chord (1 b3 5 b7) are identical except for the 4th, which is absent from the chord. A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G), hence you get a hint of an Am7 chord. Try the same approach in other keys.
Basic minor 7th chord tones tab (right-click to download)
Adding a 2nd/9th
Here, we're adding a 9th (aka 2nd) to a minor pentatonic scale idea to immediately make our lick sound more sophisticated. Play the vital 9th interval over a minor 7th chord (1 b3 5 b7) and you'll get the sound of a minor 9th chord (1 b3 5 b7 9), even though you are playing lead.
Adding a 2nd/9th tab (right-click to download)
Minor pentatonic scale with 2nd
This is the A minor pentatonic scale with an added 2nd interval. It makes the scale sound darker and is a favourite of Joe Bonamassa and Gary Moore.
Minor pentatonic scale with 2nd tab (right-click to download)
Imply a chord and a scale
The F# in bar 3 is a vital note of a D7 arpeggio (D F# A C), which helps you to nail the sound of the D7 while still using three notes from the A minor pentatonic scale.
Imply a chord and a scale tab (right-click to download)
Dissonant passing notes
The dissonant b5th is often played as a 'passing note' to a chord tone. Here, you slide quickly through the b5th, so your ears are able to forgive the discord.
Dissonant passing notes tab (right-click to download)
Half/whole diminished scale
The half-whole diminished scale is great for its 'outside' sounds. This scale is often used when moving from the I to IV chords in a blues progression.
Half/whole diminished scale tab (right-click to download)
'Wrong notes' can work if delivered with confidence and with a target note in mind. The more dissonance, the more tense your licks will sound.
Outside lick tab (right-click to download)