Secrets of Shred with Sammy Boller: Speed Pentatonic Scales

(Image credit: Sammi Chichester)

In this lesson, I’ll be demonstrating my favorite way to rearrange the pentatonic scale into a two string-speed pattern.

This trick allows you to simplify your left hand fingering for maximum speed and consistency all over the neck.

Let’s start with EXAMPLE 1 in the key of Bm. This example demonstrates how to play the B minor pentatonic scale on the E and A strings using two notes on the E string and three notes on the A string. I typically play this using hammer-ons and pull-offs, but it is good to work up to speed with alternate picking as well. The rest of the lesson is based on this pattern, so be sure to get comfortable with this fingering before moving on.

EXAMPLE 2 is identical to our first example but this time moved up two frets and to the D and G strings. It is critical that you use the same fingering and picking as EXAMPLE 1. Moving on to EXAMPLE 3, this time we move our pattern up three more frets and to the B and E strings. I use this pattern all of the time in leads because it sounds great when used in succession with other types of scales and is easy to grab when transitioning between positions.

EXAMPLE 4 links all of our previous examples into a single run up and down the neck. Be sure to focus on the transition between positions and string sets. When playing this type of run, I typically only pick when I’m changing strings or changing direction. Whenever you’re having difficultly playing a lick in a solo, try using this picking approach.

For our final example, EXAMPLE 5 takes things one-step further and adds a tapped slide to the end of our run on the high E string. This creates a chaotic sound and gives you an even more modern approach to playing pentatonic scales. Once you have these pentatonic patterns down, try combining these examples with string skipping arpeggios. I think you’ll find they lay surprisingly well together on the guitar neck!

For further study on rearranging pentatonic scales for speed, check out Paul Gilbert’s Intense Rock 1 and 2 DVD’s. And remember, just like your floss and your toothbrush, your PENTATONIC scales should be used every day. Cheers.

Sammy Boller is the guitarist for the Detroit rock band Citizen Zero. They’re touring and recording their first full-length album with Al Sutton and Marlon Young (Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Uncle Kracker). In 2012, Boller was selected by Joe Satriani as a winner of Guitar Center’s Master Satriani competition. He studied music at the University of Michigan. For more about Boller, or to ask him a question, write to him at or follow him on Twitter.

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