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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Fiddlers often dis guitarists for using pentatonics..

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haggis - Posted - 04/14/2018:  05:53:55

Often, when discussing improvisation on this forum, one reads quite disparaging comments about guitarists and the overuse of the pentatonic scale. What I believe is misunderstood is that while it is true that any one pentatonic scale has but five notes, if one listens closely most good guitarists often use not one but three or four pentatonic scales often interwoven with passing tones when improvising over a single piece of music ( not to mention chords and arpeggios.) In fact, they probably use all twelve tones. I am sure , when listening to the great fiddle players improvising that is exactly what they do. Or am I hearing things?

mwcarr - Posted - 04/14/2018:  08:42:11

That seems to me, as a guitarist and fiddler, to be a complaint grounded in ignorance. Overuse of pentatonic scales most likely overlies most instrumentation and would be more indicative of an immature and limited musicianship rather than any particular instrument.

Grassapelli - Posted - 04/14/2018:  09:22:37

I have never heard pentatonic scales overused anywhere, neither in live performance, nor in recordings. Can't say it doesn't happen, but... Maybe not very common. Pentatonics are a great start for improvising or even finding alternative licks in a given tune. getting students to take this seriously, (as compared to learning a new tune) is a teaching trick that I have not yet mastered.

ChickenMan - Posted - 04/14/2018:  10:59:43

And yet when discussing improvisation here on FHO, pentatonic scales are the FIRST thing mentioned/sugested and often discussed for pages.


As an accomplished guitar player, I rarely have anything to complain about with the general guitar public. I once showed a guy the way to connect his basic blues boxes (pent scale shapes) up and down the neck  He never took another lesson because he thought he had learned it all. It was enough for him and is often enough for the average player.

The problem with those scales has more to do with creativity - the same thing that makes improvisation a slippery slope to tackle. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 04/14/2018 11:01:49

fujers - Posted - 04/14/2018:  13:57:02

Grassspelli Is person after my own heart. You may not know it yet..but you already play a Pentatonic scale me included

bluesmode - Posted - 04/15/2018:  18:11:31


Originally posted by Grassapelli

 getting students to take this seriously, (as compared to learning a new tune) is a teaching trick that I have not yet mastered.

I think Grassapelli knows how to play a pent and knows when he's doing it.

what about string bending? I can play some pretty decent lead guitar, and I'm a bender on guitar and a slider(semi-tones) on violin.  a lot of guitar players bend strings when playing the pents. mostly whole tone bends, maybe 3 semitone tone bends. my point is, when bending or sliding, it is not a pentatonic anymore. if the next note of the pent you're playing is a whole tone up, you can bend into it. on the violin that would be a slide. I don't think passing tones count either. the word Penta means five.  

Edited by - bluesmode on 04/15/2018 18:17:19

Brian Wood - Posted - 04/15/2018:  20:26:43

I’m the guy that complains. It’s not a complaint against the scale per se, but the many guitar players I’ve run across who are too lazy to learn to play melodies, and instead just jam over the changes using one pent (not sure what you mean by using several of them). It’s okay if you disagree, but it bores me.

Brian Wood - Posted - 04/15/2018:  21:57:19

Blaire, to be clear I don’t think we disagree much. You expanded the limits of the pentatonic scale in your description to include the other scale degrees to where it is no longer a pentatonic scale, but all the chromatic notes.

bluesmode - Posted - 04/16/2018:  01:34:10


Originally posted by abinigia

 I’ve run across who are too lazy to learn to play melodies, and instead just jam over the changes using one pent

....and some jam over the changes with one minor pent when they should be using a major.

bluesmode - Posted - 04/16/2018:  01:52:57


Originally posted by abinigia

 (not sure what you mean by using several of them).

I think that means using the same pentatonic scale in different positions. buy doing this, the scale falls to hand differently thus giving it more variety. But that's the same for everything.

my favorite configuration on guitar for the major scale (which gives me all the modes) is vertical within 4 frets (I don't hafta stretch my fingers over 5 frets) but depending on the mode, the root could be with 4th finger on D string and octave on B string.

fujers - Posted - 04/16/2018:  07:44:08

If you go beyond the pent scale that's ok because you learned something new. Pentatonic is not just a scale you play.. it is a vehicle just like other scales you play..just a vehicle to get you to where you are going. If you play just a pent scale I agree it can be boring..but if you put other notes into it ist's not boring. Imagination is the key to everything. If you don't use a little bit of imagination into your playing..what do you get..nothing

martynspeck - Posted - 04/16/2018:  08:15:06

I can understand this intellectually. What's the process?

It feels like:

  1. Work on Pentatonics.

  2. Then a miracle occurs.

  3. Improvise.

Edited by - martynspeck on 04/16/2018 08:15:34

fujers - Posted - 04/16/2018:  08:21:24

I don't know about a miracle but you have the other questions right

fujers - Posted - 04/16/2018:  08:22:44

They are not rocket science they are about the easiest scale to learn

fujers - Posted - 04/16/2018:  08:28:12

G Pentatonic..GABDE..higher G to finish it out ...5 notes and 6 notes to finish..See what you can do with it

Brian Wood - Posted - 04/16/2018:  10:45:23


Originally posted by bluesmode

....and some jam over the changes with one minor pent when they should be using a major.

Yes, that. I think I was there many many years ago when I thought I was a hot shot guitarist. But I was missing so much, and probably boring people. If all you can play with any tune is a blues jam, you're stuck. I like to improvise and I use pentatonics a lot, but learning tunes and other scales opened my eyes to the bigger picture. Pents are one tool of many.

martynspeck - Posted - 04/16/2018:  11:30:36


Originally posted by fujers

They are not rocket science they are about the easiest scale to learn

The scale is easy to learn, but what next?


Edit: This is my Eleventy Eleventh post. 

Edited by - martynspeck on 04/16/2018 11:32:25

fujers - Posted - 04/16/2018:  11:48:20

The scale is easy to learn yes. Now it's up to you to make something of it. Add a note take away a note mix up your scale with other notes. There is nothing written in the book that's says you can't

Edited by - fujers on 04/16/2018 11:49:14

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 04/16/2018:  12:22:54

About 90% of all guitar solos are a mixture of the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic which adds up to 8 of the 12 notes possible and if you get the b5 and 7 in there that's about all you would ever need (no b2 b6)

farmerjones - Posted - 04/16/2018:  12:26:34

Marty I understand your skepticism.
I think it hinges around, how you define "Improvise?"
Would it be, "pulling a melody line out of a tune, by ear?"
Would it be, "Sussing the chords of a tune, by ear?"
Many, many tunes share the same chords. While a melody is what makes a tune unique.
You can arpeggiate a chord or pentatonic scale, starting with the root (1), then move to the 4, then the 5 and back, all the while keeping time. There's a thousand tunes that this will fit. It sounds like you're playing along. But this is not to be confused with the MELODY. Somebody, it may not be you, that's fine, has to play the melody line, otherwise everything sounds the same.

In some groups it's assumed you know the melody and chords of every tune that's played. So improvising would be to come up with a variation of either the chords and/or melody, on-the-fly.

This applies to fiddlers & guitar players alike. "Improvise" can mean beating along with the 1, 4, and/or 5 chord or, on the other side of the spectrum, coming up with a Jazz solo. No dissing to it. You do and play what you can. As long as you can keep decent time, you can play with me.

Edited by - farmerjones on 04/16/2018 12:39:36

buckhenry - Posted - 04/21/2018:  17:27:59

Pentatonics and arpeggios can be used as a basis of improvisation. A pentatonic scale could be seen as an extended chord, eg, GABDE= G6add9. Depending on which genre we are to improvise in this will determined the choice and type of passing notes ( the notes that are used to fill in the gaps of the penta scale and arpeggio ). I have heard great solos using only the pentatonic scale tones while some genres may include diatonic tones for the passing notes, and other genres will include chromatic passing notes, over several pentatonic scales. Thus it would be possible to employ the entire scale of chromatic notes in one solo. I taught my son the minor pentatonic scale because he enjoyed the blues. The rest he taught to him self, which took him to a guitar jazz course at university level. So, these notes can be used for a basic solo, or a basis of improvisation which can take you far and beyond.

fiddlenbanjo - Posted - 06/05/2018:  06:40:34


Originally posted by martynspeck

I can understand this intellectually. What's the process?

It feels like:

  1. Work on Pentatonics.

  2. Then a miracle occurs.

  3. Improvise.


For me the miracle occurred when I learned to bounce back and forth between the major and the minor pentatonic.  And it got even more fun when I learned to add one more chromatic note to the scale, the b3 to the major pentatonic and the #4 to the minor.  Some call these 6 notes scales major and minor blues scales.

Adding the b3 to the major pentatonic gives you the ability to make some really good bluesy licks and still be in the major feel. 

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