7 Pentatonic Scale Licks That Help You Play Awesome Rock And Blues Guitar Solos
by Tom Hess
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I’ll start by teaching you 7 pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks.
(they sound cool whether you play them fast or slow.)
… and then I’ll teach you how to “tweak” these pentatonic scale licks to play better guitar solos.
On top of this…
… I’ll show you how to create pentatonic guitar licks of your own and go far beyond the scope of this pentatonic guitar licks lesson.
If you want to know how the pros use the pentatonic scale to create solos, you’re going to love reading through the points in this article.
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Watch this pentatonic guitar licks lesson video where I show you how to play 7 pentatonic guitar licks every guitarist ought to know:
Now that you can play more cool pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks, here are a few more advanced (but easy to use) tips on how you can create pentatonic scale licks yourself:
Tip #1 For Playing Better Pentatonic Guitar Licks: Know The Pentatonic Scale Inside & Out
Many guitar players struggle with using the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos because they can only play pentatonic guitar licks in one position of the pentatonic scale.
Go to your average guitar player who wants to play better pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks and ask him to play A minor pentatonic guitar licks in the 8th position on the guitar.
I bet you’ll see him freeze.
That’s because to the average guitar player “pentatonic guitar licks” is synonymous with “5th fret” (the 1st position of A minor pentatonic scale).
Pro guitar players (who have an easy time creating pentatonic rock and blues guitar solos) can use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos all over the fretboard.
- Knowing all 5 positions of the pentatonic scale (there are 5 notes in the scale, which equals 5 positions.). So, when you are learning how to play pentatonic licks, use all 5 shapes.
- Knowing how to play the pentatonic scale on 1 string (so you can create pentatonic guitar licks using cool slides, like you saw me use in the pentatonic guitar licks lesson video above).
- Knowing how to play the pentatonic scale on 2 strings (so you can use the pentatonic scale to create solos that quickly cover the entire fretboard).
- Knowing how to play pentatonic guitar licks diagonally across the fretboard (this gives your pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks a unique sound few guitar players use).
Question: “Tom Hess, what’s the best way to memorize pentatonic scale shapes in all the ways you describe above? It sounds like it would take forever before I know enough to create cool pentatonic scale licks.”
Answer: There is no “best” way, but here are some tips to speed up the process of learning to use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos:
1. Work on memorizing the fretboard a little bit every day. How consistently you practice is more important than how long you practice.
2. Create pentatonic guitar licks every day (even if you are still learning the fretboard). Don’t wait *until* you memorize the fretboard to start creating pentatonic scale licks.
To get more help with memorizing your fretboard (so you have an easier time playing pentatonic scale licks) check out this great video by Music Theory Education Expert Tommaso Zillio:
Tip #2 For Playing Better Pentatonic Guitar Licks: Create Pentatonic Scale Licks Using Lick Sequencing
How do you create pentatonic scale licks using lick sequencing?
You start with any 1 of the pentatonic licks for guitar you currently know.
Then you move it up and down the fretboard using a sequence. (This is one of the secrets your favorite players rely on when they use the pentatonic scale to create solos.)
Want to see it in action?
Watch this video to see how to practice lick sequencing and start using it to play awesome pentatonic guitar licks:
As you get better at using lick sequencing to play pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks, you also improve your ability to transcribe your favorite rock guitar solos.
Because many of the pentatonic guitar licks in your favorite guitar solos were created based on sequencing.
Especially the faster pentatonic scale licks. For example: many of the faster Randy Rhoads solos and Eddie Van Halen solos are based on the pentatonic scale licks (and scale sequences).
And on top of transcribing guitar solos… playing pentatonic scale licks using lick sequencing also helps you to memorize music faster.
That’s because you are able to think in patterns (instead of thinking about individual notes). It’s much faster to think this way and this helps you use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos faster and easier.
Bonus tip: the less you have to think when you solo – the better your guitar solos sound and the more free you are to express yourself. (This is true whether you use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos or you solo with any other scale.)
Question: “Tom Hess, lick sequencing sounds ok, but it seems a bit robotic! Is there a way to use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos and play pentatonic scale licks more musically?”
Answer: Yes. It’s called rubato. With rubato, you can play pentatonic licks for guitar fast or slow (using scale sequences or not) and it will sound musical.
Rubato is a lead guitar technique that makes even fast (and “generic”) pentatonic guitar licks sound uniquely yours.
Rubato is based on stretching the time within your pentatonic rock and blues licks, allowing you to squeeze more emotion out of the rhythm of the notes.
Most guitar players who use the pentatonic scale to create solos don’t even know that rubato exists.
But guitar players like Yngwie, Jason Becker, Eddie Van Halen, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai and others all use it in their guitar solos.
And although it is simple to do Rubato, it’s very hard to copy someone else’s rubato style (even when you are playing the exact pentatonic guitar licks as someone else).
That’s why, guitar players who do use it begin to stand out and develop their own sound quickly.
Want to see how it works?
Tip #3 For Playing Better Pentatonic Guitar Licks: Practice Your Phrasing With Pentatonic Scale Licks
Phrasing is what makes your pentatonic guitar licks sound like real music (and not simply as exercises from a pentatonic guitar licks lesson).
And it’s one of the most important skills you need to become a great classic rock guitar player.
What exactly is phrasing?
It means focusing on *how* you play the notes of your pentatonic guitar licks just as much (or more) as the notes themselves.
A common problem guitar players run into as they use the pentatonic scale to create solos…
… is using the *possibility* of playing more notes to cover up the fact that their playing isn’t as expressive as it could be.
This means: they play long pentatonic guitar licks (that have a lot of notes) but don’t express much with any of those notes.
See what I mean in the video below:
The solution is: spend some time studying the phrasing of great singers.
Singers, unlike most of the guitar players who play pentatonic scale licks, can’t sing notes forever (they have to breathe).
So, they have to think a lot more about how to phrase the notes they are singing. And their challenge is to squeeze maximum expression out of a few notes.
As a guitar player – there is much to learn here as you are practicing your pentatonic licks for guitar.
One thing you can do is transcribe the vocal parts of your favorite singers and focus on matching their phrasing.
Then apply their phrasing nuances to make your pentatonic scale licks sound better too.
Here is another assignment that will help you use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos.
Step 1: Take any one of your pentatonic guitar licks.
Step 2: Create 20 slight variations on that lick to turn your original lick into 20 slightly different pentatonic scale licks (that use the same notes but different phrasing).
Watch this video to see how:
Tip #4 For Playing Better Pentatonic Guitar Licks: Master Guitar Vibrato
If phrasing (in general) is what makes your pentatonic scale licks sound like real music…
…then vibrato is the heart of what makes the phrasing of your pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks sound good.
How do you practice vibrato as you learn to use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos?
Use these vibrato tips as you practice the licks from this pentatonic guitar licks lesson:
1. Wrap your fretting hand thumb around the fretboard as you do vibrato on notes in your pentatonic scale licks. This gives you maximum control and makes your vibrato consistent.
2. Do the rock (and blues) guitar vibrato on your pentatonic guitar licks – not a “classical” vibrato.
The classical vibrato rocks the string band and forth (from left to right). This makes the string lose tension and the note sounds flat.
The “rock” vibrato (that sounds best when playing pentatonic scale licks) means you bend the string up and down. This is the secret to getting control over your vibrato and achieving a real rock lead guitar sound.
The last thing you want is a fast & narrow out-of-control vibrato! This makes your guitar playing sound nervous… and turns even the best pentatonic guitar licks into a sloppy mess.
3. Don’t do vibrato with your fingers. Instead, do the motion with your entire arm. The vibrato motion is almost the same as the motion for lead guitar string bends. Only when you do vibrato, you move the string faster than you do for string bends. And ideally, your vibrato should also be in time with the beat of the music. Here is what I mean:
4. Delay your vibrato (sometimes) instead of going to vibrato instantly as you are practicing your pentatonic licks for guitar.
Instant vibrato means: you play a note and apply vibrato to it immediately.
You definitely can make your pentatonic scale licks sound good by applying instant vibrato…
… but there are also other ways to do vibrato that add more expression to your pentatonic rock and blues guitar licks. This vibrato video lesson shows you what they are and how to use them.
Tip #5 For Playing Better Pentatonic Guitar Licks: Master String Bends And Slides
Try these lead guitar exercises to help you get the most from this pentatonic guitar licks lesson:
Lead Guitar Exercise 1. Play any one of the pentatonic scale licks form this pentatonic guitar licks lesson with rearticulation bends.
What’s a rearticulation bend? It’s where you play a note and immediately bend *into* that same note. For example: play the 10th fret of the B string (as an unbent note) and bend into it from the 8th fret (bend the 8th fret up a whole step).
This is quite hard to do cleanly, but it helps you make your strings sound better quickly.
Lead Guitar Exercise 2. Play any one of the pentatonic scale licks from this pentatonic guitar licks lesson with rearticulation slides.
What’s a rearticulation slide? It’s very similar to a rearticulation string bend.
It’s where you play a note and immediately slide into that same note. For example: play the 10th fret of the B string (as a regular note) and then slide into it from the 8th fret.
Practicing your pentatonic guitar licks this way is one of the best ways to learn to use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos and become a great overall lead guitar player.
Now that you know how to use the pentatonic scale to create guitar solos, what’s next?
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About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Begin transforming your guitar playing today with the best rock guitar lessons on the internet.
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