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Implementing licks into your chord progressions or riffs

Would you like to add some lead elements to your guitar riffs or chord progressions, but you’ve never done something creative before? If you are not experienced in improvising, an easy way to get started is to use the pentatonic scale.

The good thing about the pentatonic scale is that it is easy to memorize on the fretboard and it sounds decent in most musical situations, so you don’t have to worry too much about which notes you play; you can rely mostly on your ears.

Here is the pattern you have to memorize:

To get started with the pentatonic scale, try to play the pattern a few times up and down the guitar neck, to get familiar with it. As you can see there are no indications on which fret you should begin. The reason for this is, that the fret you start on depends on the key you are playing your chord progression or riff.

For minor keys you start the pentatonic pattern on the same note of the key that you are in. So for example if you are in D minor, you would start the pattern on the 10th fret, which is the note ‘D’.

For major keys you start the pattern 3 frets lower than the note of the key you are in. So for example if you are in C major, you would start the pattern on the 5th fret (note ‘A’), which is 3 frets lower than the note ‘C’, which is on the 8th fret.

Creating your licks:

Now that you have all the background information you need to use the pentatonic scale, we can get into applying this pattern into your rhythm guitar playing. You can do so by omitting chords or measures in your pieces and fill them up by playing a lick in the pentatonic scale (in case you are the only guitar player. If you are playing with another guitarist, he can continue playing the rhythm part.).

I’ll give you an example: You are playing a piece which has the chord progression¬† Am, C, Em and G. This chord progression is in the key of A minor, so you would start the pentatonic scale from the 5th fret. In most cases you would leave out the last chord in the chord progression (in this case the ‘G’ chord), if the singer has a short break that you can fill with a lick.

You don’t have to play very complicated stuff first, just try to come up with some simple 3 note licks to begin with, you can get into more complex stuff as you gain confidence with the pentatonic scale.

It is a good idea to try to match the rhythm, or the ‘rhythmic groupings’ of the rest of the song, with the lick that you are playing, so that it sound like it ‘belongs’ into the song.

Here is a short example of how you could do that, with a simple 3 note lick:

Now it is your turn to get started with using the pentatonic scale to create your own licks in songs you are playing, experiment and have fun!

This article was written by guitar instructor Marco von Baumbach, he is teaching guitar in Wuppertal, Germany. You can find out more about him on his website Gitarrenunterricht in Wuppertal

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