Unlocking the Neck

Most guitar players know the minor pentatonic box very well. When I hear songs on a CD, the radio or if I’m out watching a band, I can’t help but listen and watch the guitar player being locked in a “cage.” That cage is the minor pentatonic box. That being said, this is the scale that I see as home base when playing a song. Sure there are a million and a half licks we all know out of that pentatonic box, but don’t you ever want to know what else is possible? Wouldn’t it be cool to know the neck really well and play parts that are literally outside the box? This article is for that purpose. Busting out of the pentatonic box.

The pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes, which is why penta is used. Penta means 5. The natural minor scale is made up of 7 notes. They include the minor pentatonic’s 5 notes but also include 2 more. Lets use A minor.

A minor pentatonic is A C D E G
A natural minor is A B C D E F G

So the only difference between the two scales is an added B or 2nd and F or 6th. Great, now we have that out of the way, next is putting these notes on the fretboard.

Starting on the high E string we have the following tab

E —– 0 1 3 5 7 8 10 12 13 15 17 19 20

If you know your pentatonic scale well, then you can see that the 5th fret and 8th fret are included here in the A minor scale. You can also see that the 7th fret or B is now in the scale. I would like you to do the following practice sequences ascending up and then down the neck as follows, FOUR TIMES EACH. And please, use alternate picking!

E—– 0 1 3 (4 times) 1 3 5 (4 times) 3 5 7 (4 times) 5 7 8 (4 times) 7 8 10 (4 times) 8 10 12 (4 times) 10 12 13 (4 times) 12 13 15 (4 times) 13 15 17 (4 times) 15 17 19 (4 times) 17 19 20 (4 times).

Now descend down the neck:

20 19 17 (4 times) 19 17 15 (4 times) 17 15 13 (4 times) 15 13 12 (4 times) 13 12 10 (4 times) 12 10 8 (4 times).

I want you to practice ascending and descending up and down the high E string using these 3 note patterns until you memorize them. It really shouldn’t take you very long since the action of doing it over and over will force you to start seeing the patterns on the neck. Also, if you remember from a previous post, you should focus on using the same fingerings every time you play these sequences. This will also force you to remember it because of the muscle memory involved in the process.

I like to use my first, second and pinky for most of these scales but that is what works best for me. You should be playing enough and working hard enough to where you naturally fall into these good habits. So work hard, play a lot and next week we will move on to the B string. In the end you will know the A minor scale up and down each of the six strings and then the neck will truly be unlocked.

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