Monster Licks: Going Over the Top — Adding Notes to Spice Up the Pentatonic Scale
In this Monster Lick, I'm using a combination of pentatonic scales in the key of E minor.
All of these scales are based around the straight minor pentatonic, but to get the different effect I simply add a note to create the new variation.
It's very important to understand what the notes are. They're not just randomly added. The notes in the straight E minor pentatonic are E G A B D. What I do from here is add either the major 3rd (G#), which is called the “major 3rd pentatonic,” or the major 6th (Db) “major 6th pentatonic,” or the flat 5 (Bb), which is called the “flat 5" or "blues scale.”
There's nothing new to this approach. Blues players have been adding these notes to the basic pentatonic for eons. But the difference here is that I apply this system to a heavy/hard-rock style of playing. I do this with a combination of sweeps and legato, which creates a very hard-edge modern sound while still keeping the blues tonality.
This approach is fantastic for a jazz/blues style with a clean sound. Once you start playing around with adding these notes, you'll discover some really cool chromatic lines that are great to give you a jazzy feel.
The secret to being able to pull this off, though, is to understand that all of these notes are actually part of a scale and not just random. When I was first experimenting with this kind of sound, I found that I would get lost a lot of the time on the fretboard. It wasn’t until I mastered each individual variation of the pentatonic scale that I became comfortable combining them.
If you go back through the previous Monster Licks, you will notice I have licks dedicated to each individual scale, so refer back to hear the difference in tonality between the scales.
I start this lick with an arpeggio using the major 6th pentatonic. From there I switch into the flat 5 scale then into a combination of the flat 5 and the major 6th. This has a diminished 7th sound to it. This intro should give you a great indication of how the combinations create a very intense-sounding run.
From here I move into the “over the top” section where I swing my hand over the fretboard. Please spot the notes marked “T” in the transcription; they are the notes I fret with my thumb to create the pivot to swing my hand over the fretboard.
I finish the lick with a series of five- and six-string arpeggios combining the major 6th, flat 5 and also the major 3rd scales.
The important thing is to take note of how you can use all of these scales together. The lick is simply an example of how far you can take the idea. This way of combining scales can be used in a very soulful manner too. I'm just demonstrating the other end of the spectrum.
Australia's Glenn Proudfoot has played and toured with major signed bands and artists in Europe and Australia, including progressive rockers Prazsky Vyber. Glenn released his first instrumental solo album, Lick Em, in 2010. It is available on iTunes and at glennproudfoot.com. His latest album — a still-untitled all-instrumental release — will be available in March 2014.