In last month’s column, I demonstrated a variety of ways to transform standard A minor pentatonic-based licks into modal runs and patterns using the A Aeolian mode (a.k.a. the A natural minor scale: A B C D E F G). This month, I will expand on the concept by applying a slight rhythmic variation to a standard A minor pentatonic pattern, again transforming it to A natural minor, and then examine these newly realized melodic shapes in different areas of the fretboard. We will then transpose the new melodic ideas to another very commonly used mode: A Dorian (A B C D E Fs G).
FIGURE 1 illustrates one of rock lead guitar’s most well-known and widely used patterns: ascending eighth-note triplets played within the A minor pentatonic scale. I begin with the root note, A, as a pickup, as to set up the C note played on the downbeat of beat one in bar 1.
Each eighth-note triplet begins with a note from the A minor pentatonic scale, descends to the next-lower scale degree and then returns to the first pitch: beat one is C-A-C, beat two is D-C-D, beat three is E-D-E, and so on. This triplet pattern continues through three bars, ending on C, on the high E string’s eighth fret.
The rhythmic tweak I apply involves taking this eighth-note-triplet melodic pattern and converting it to 16th notes. In FIGURE 1, the first four notes of the pattern are A (the pickup) and C-A-C, the three notes that make up the eighth-note triplet played on beat one. If we take these four notes (A-C-A-C) and play them as straight 16ths, we get what is shown on beat one of FIGURE 2. I then take the three notes played on beat two of FIGURE 1, D-C-D, and add the first note of the following eighth-note triplet, E, and play these four notes (D-C-D-E) as straight 16ths on beat two of FIGURE 2. The remainder of the figure is built in this same manner, “compressing” the eighth-note triplets of FIGURE 1 into successions of straight 16th notes.
Applying this type of rhythmic reorganization is often referred to as “threes on fours,” as melodic shapes based on three-note patterns have been reassembled into four-note groups. Moving from one beat to the next in FIGURE 2, the result is a series of three different melodic shapes that then repeat as the figure progresses. Starting from the first note, A, on beat one, the figure goes up-down-up (C-A-C); starting from the first note, D, on beat two, the figure goes down-up-up (C-D-E); and starting from the first note, D, on beat three, the figure goes up-up-down (E-G-E). The melodic shape played on beat four mimics beat one: after the first note, G, is played, the figure goes up-down-up (A-G-A).
When transposing eighth-note triplets to 16th notes, the note sequence that had fallen across four beats now will fall across three beats: four eighth-note triplets equals 12 notes, and three beats of 16th notes also equals 12 notes. The result is a cool-sounding melodic pattern that repeats every three beats and creates a forward drive and melodic unpredictability. Jeff Beck used this approach in the melody to his classic fusion instrumental “Scatterbrain” (Blow by Blow), the genesis of which came from a scale exercise he was practicing in the studio.
Now let’s take this series of 16th-note-based melodic patterns and move them to different areas of the fretboard. In FIGURE 3, an A minor pentatonic-based run is played down to second/third position. Play the pattern in ascending and descending form at a comfortable tempo, then gradually increase it while maintaining clean articulation.
Now let’s apply this concept to the A Aeolian mode in various positions. The run in FIGURE 4 is based on A Aeolian played in first/second position. Throughout much of this pattern, three notes of the scale are played on each string, requiring a wide stretch on the low and high E strings, where notes fall at the first, third and fifth frets, fretted with the index finger, middle finger and pinkie, respectively.
The best way to learn this pattern all over the fretboard is to methodically ascend to higher positions of A Aeolian. FIGURE 5 illustrates the riff played in third/fourth position in both ascending and descending forms. You will notice as you move from each scale position to the next that the fingering sequence on each string will change accordingly, which will serve to strengthen your fret-hand chops greatly.
FIGURES 6 and 7 illustrate the pattern moved up to fifth and seventh positions, respectively. Use a metronome and work through these scale patterns deliberately, with focus on clear articulation.
Along with Aeolian, the Dorian mode is a very commonly used minor mode in blues, rock and jazz. Classic examples include the melodies and solos played by Dickey Betts and Duane Allman in the Allman Brothers Band songs “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post,” as well as those played by Carlos Santana on “Evil Ways” and “Oye Como Va.”
FIGURE 8 shows the lick transposed to A Dorian mode, as played in third/fourth position, and FIGURE 9 offers an illustration of how one can play the pattern while descending through a series of scale positions. Now that you’ve gotten the formula, try applying it to any other scale or mode you know.