When I came up with my first guitar lick, using the A minor pentatonic scale in its most commonly used position, I was over the moon.
It sounded like the real thing, and it was.
I went back to my A minor pentatonic and came up with another lick, and another and another.
And it felt so easy! (In fact starting to improvise on guitar is not hard.)
Though, by then, I had memorized all five patterns of the minor pentatonic scale, during this binge, all guitar licks came out from the most commonly used pattern of the minor pentatonic. (as we’ll see below).
While this was a breakthrough in my guitar playing, as well as a memory I cherish, in hindsight I realize that I fell in love a bit too much with that particular scale pattern.
That it became my comfort zone and by choosing to remain in that position all the time, I overlook the importance of connecting the different scale patterns.
I would, sometimes play in a different position, but still, I always used one position at a time. I always played in a box.
The reason was that I believed connecting scale patterns is such a laborious and boring task that’s not worth the effort.
Except that it doesn’t have to be.
Not if you are connecting scale patterns and writing licks or solos at the same time.
What we’ll do here is divide this process into smaller steps. Rather than show you an exercise to repeat over and over again until the connection gets ingrained in your head, I’m going to show you a method you can use to connect scales and be creative at the same time.
In this lesson we’ll be using two different scale patterns from the A minor pentatonic, connect them, and then have some fun with them.
Once you understand the process, you can apply it to any scale pattern you want to connect.
Step 1: Learn the scales you want to connect
Needless to say you need to learn the scales you want to connect first.
The following are the two A minor pentatonic scale patterns we’ll be connecting in this lesson.
The first pattern, is in the most commonly used position already mentioned (the one I was coming up with all my licks from in the example above)
The pattern in tabs:
The second pattern starts from the A an octave higher from the first scale pattern.
The pattern in tabs:
Step 2: Connect the scale patterns by using a slide
In the exercise below, we’ll be doing the actual connection of the two scale patterns.
Start with the A minor pentatonic position in Pattern 1 but on the fifth note on the scale (G), which you should be playing with your index finger, you slide into the root note A, which is the first note of the Pattern 2.
Thanks to the slide, your index finger will find itself exactly in the right position to start the next scale pattern.
Likewise, when you come up from the scale you slide the A back to the G and continue the first scale pattern in its correct position.
Practice this a few times, before you start implementing the next step.
Step 3: Learn licks using notes from both patterns
Rather than practice an exercise like this for a million times, once you get the grip of the new pattern formed by the connection, you should start using it in real musical situations, that is, licks and solos.
Below are a few licks that use notes from both of these two patterns. Learn the licks well, and if you have implemented step 2, coming up with your own won’t be hard.
Notice that apart from the slide, I’ll be using other phrasing techniques such as bending strings, legato technique and vibrato.
The next lick starts on the second pattern of the A minor pentatonic shown above and ends in the first pattern in the last bar.
The following lick is more challenging since it involves more techniques, and shorter notes like semiquavers.
Don’t let this scare you. If you can play hammer ons, pull offs and slides, all you have to do is to isolate the part that’s giving you trouble, (which can be as small as two notes) and play that part over and over at a very slow speed, the speed at which you can play it correctly.
Once you bring that little snippet to perfection at a slow speed, start increasing the speed incrementally until you can play it at the tempo you want to play the lick in.
Then, play that snippet with the few notes that come before and after it, following which you’ll integrate it into the whole lick.
Also note that in this lick I deviate slightly from both patterns with the power chord before the last which is a G.
Step 4: Create your own licks and solos
Now that the actual connection is more or less ingrained in your head, and have learnt three licks that use notes from both scale patterns, it’s time to set your creativity free.
That is, start writing your own licks and solos using both patterns.
Now, your creativity should be free. This means that at this stage, unlike in the previous three steps, you should not be thinking too much about choosing notes from both patterns.
If you end up spending way more time on one pattern that the other, it’s not a problem at all.
On the other hand, if your focus is on making sure you use notes from both patterns, rather than creating beautiful melodies, you will end up thinking a lot and creating very little.
Because at this stage, you should stop thinking of connecting scale patterns as an exercise and more as a creativity tool.
The goal is not to have “as many scales connected as possible” but to have “as many options as possible, and milk every one of them”.
You can write a great solo in just one position, for the same reason that a great work of art can be done with just a pencil.
Yet, most artists want to have more options than just drawing with a pencil.
And connecting scale patterns does exactly that – it gives you more options. More notes you can choose from, an extended range of notes and the ability to play up and down all the guitar neck rather than staying in a box.
Which brings us to the last thing I would like to share with you in this lesson.
Your guitar practicing mindset
I didn’t learn how to connect scale patterns this way.
In fact, since I saw the first pattern connecting article in a book and thought “This looks damn boring, hard and will take a long time” until today, when I’m writing this lesson, almost two decades have passed.
I actually did start learning how to connect scale patterns the way it was explained in the book.
And it was boring and it did take a lot of time.
The problem had more to do with my mindset, than the content of the book though.
A crucial issue when it comes to adopting the right mindset, one in which I go into more detail in the ebook 5 Steps to an Ideal Practicing Mindset, is the quality of the questions you ask.
Because if you ask questions that have little value, the answers you’ll get will have little value too, even if they’re the correct answers.
On the other hand, if you ask quality questions, you will get a much more valuable answer, even if it’s not the perfect answer.
Let me show you how this applies to the above.
These are the kind of questions I was asking when I was learning how to connect scale patterns the first time:
“How can I connect as many scales as possible in a short period of time?”
“Should I be learning more scale patterns or connecting the ones I already know?”
“How long will it take me until I reach Chapter 10 and start writing solos?”
And while there’s nothing technically wrong with the questions above, I was missing the most important question of all:
“How can I connect these scale patterns, use them in real life musical situations and have fun in the process?”
What’s great about questions like these, is that you will get answers which, as imperfect as they may be, lead to results.
And it’s the results, rather than the answers, that really matter.
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