Guitar soloing: spread fingering shapes

Expanding the pentatonic scales, extended shapes and modes - Part 4

guitar soloing extended shapes Hello and welcome back to the last installment of my Guitar Soloing 101 lesson series. So far we’ve touched on a lot of the basics of guitar soloing and we’ve worked on building a visual mind-map of sorts of your fretboard. And if you’ve been following the series closely and more importantly if you’ve been applying yourself to the exercises in each lesson, you should by now be able to look down at your fretboard and visualize the following:

And by now you should also have a basic feel for moving around the fretboard in a specific key, to a metronome, while paying attention to your phrasing and melodic sensibility.

If you feel like you’re not as confident in any one of these areas, I’d suggest that you take a little more time to master them with absolute certainty. After all, when it comes to guitar, it’s much harder to unlearn bad habits than it is to learn new ones.

Expanding the major and minor pentatonic

In today’s installment I want to talk about expanding the major and minor pentatonic scales to create the diatonic scale, or as most of you might know it, the “do re mi fa so la ti” scale.

So let’s start off by looking at the 5th position of the A minor pentatonic scale:

guitar solos lesson pentatonic

Now if you're fluent in your pentatonic scale knowledge, by this point you should know that the notes that we play in the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) are the same as the notes in the C major pentatonic. And you’ll also notice that the 4th position of the C major pentatonic scale is identical to the 5th position of the A minor pentatonic scale.

guitar solos lesson pentatonic

Whether the scale sounds more in the key of A minor or more in the key of C major depends solely on the notes that we choose to emphasize when soloing in this pattern. For example, if we were soloing over a jam track in the key of A minor, we’d emphasize more on the A note in the scale.

Now to expand this scale into a diatonic scale, let’s first add the notes visualized with a yellow circle:

guitar solos lesson pentatonic

What we’ve done here from a major pentatonic perspective is simply added the 4th and 7th notes to create a diatonic scale.

Likewise, if we were to treat this scale as A minor by starting on the A note, what we’re doing is simply adding the 6th and 9th notes to the scale.

guitar solos lesson pentatonic

Exercise #1

The first exercise that I want you to work on this week is to meander over a simple jam track, either in the key of C major or A minor and experiment with adding these notes to your pentatonic. You’ll notice how different the sound is from when you simply play using the pentatonic scale. You might also notice that sometimes adding these two notes and playing through the entire diatonic scale can sometimes sound a little too straightforward and melodic, so what I really want you to work on is to get a feel of when to add these notes and when to stay away from them.

The spread fingering shape

The second thing that I want to touch on in this lesson is what we refer to as the “spread fingering shape”.

Let’s first take a look at the C major scale in a spread finger shape:

guitar c major scale spread fingering patterns

This same C major scale played using a “box shape” would look like this:

guitar c major scale box shape

Now while the box shapes are great for navigating the fretboard, there are several advantages to familiarizing yourself with this spread fingering shapes:

  • Because you’re playing 3 notes per string, it’s much easier to speed things up when soloing
  • The visual symmetry of the scale makes it much easier to memorize – the pattern of notes are the same on each the 6th and 5th, 4th and 3rd and 2nd and 1st strings.
  • It’s much easier to visualize your scale degrees with this shape

Exercise #2

The second exercise that I want you to work on for this lesson is to meander across the C major scale to a C major jam track. While doing this I want you to really focus and get a feel of how the various scale degrees (that is the I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII notes) sound when played over specific chords in the progression. You see, when it comes to playing truly great guitar solos knowing all these scales and simply playing up and down them is pointless. What’s more important is to develop an intuition on how to play using various intervals between the scale degrees.

Understanding Modes

The last area of knowledge that I want to touch on in this series is an extremely useful area of music theory called "modes".

A lot of guitarists tend to have trouble understanding what modes are because teachers sometimes tend to overcomplicate this specific area of knowledge, so I’m going to try and keep things as simple as I can.

To start off with, let’s take the C major scale.

Now for those of you who don’t know, when playing in the key of C major we have 3 major chords, 3 minor chords and 1 diminished chord. And whenever we are in a major key, the I, IV and V scale degrees are always major, the ii, iii and vi scale degrees are minor and the vii chord is a diminished.

So in the key of C major, the 7 chords corresponding to our 7 scale degrees would be:

  • I – C major
  • ii – D minor
  • iii - E minor
  • IV – F major
  • V – G major
  • vi – A minor
  • And vii – B diminished

Now if we were to look at a typical verse-chord progression in the key of C major, we could go A minor (vi) – F major (IV) – G major (V) for the verse and C major (I) – G major (V) – A minor (vi) – F major (IV).

Here, in simple terms, we would say that in the verse we’re playing in the key of A minor and that in the chorus we’re playing in the key of C major. But in reality what we’re doing is constantly playing in the key of C while emphasizing different chords.

So a mode is simply a way of referencing which chord or scale degree of a particular key we’re emphasizing. For example, in the earlier example, we would say that we’re playing in C Ionian for the chorus and A Aeolian for the verse.

Likewise, there are seven modes of any given major key that we can use to reference which chord or scale degree we’re emphasizing. They are:

  • I – Ionian
  • ii – Dorian
  • iii – Phyrigianv
  • IV – Lydian
  • V – Mixolydian
  • vi – Aeolian
  • vii – Locrian

So if someone were to say that they were playing in E Phrygian, what they actually mean is that they’re emphasizing on the III degree or E minor chord while playing in the key of C.

Likewise if someone were to say that they were playing in D Mixolydian, what they actually mean is that they’re emphasizing the V degree or D dominant chord while playing in the key of G.

Exercise #3

The third exercise that I would like you to work on for this lesson is to familiarize yourself with the seven modes and being able to quickly recognize which key someone is playing in when they call out a specific mode. For example if someone were to tell you that they were playing in E Mixolydian, you need to be able to quickly figure out that what they mean is that they’re emphasizing the E major or V chord/scale degree while playing in the key of A minor.

Exercise #4

The 4th and final exercise that I’d like you to work on for this lesson is to get a feel for meandering using various modes.

Step 1 – Practice and memorize the 7 spread fingering positions of any major key. You can start off with the G major scale and you can use this tool to familiarize yourself with each seven possible shapes of the scale. When doing this pay particular attention to the 7 scale degrees of the scale and corresponding chords.

Step 2 – Pick a mode that you’d like to play in and a simple chord progression to meander over. For example, if you were to play in A Dorian (key of G) a simple chord progression that you could play over could be Am – Em – G – Am. When meandering over this chord progression work on emphasizing the A notes on the G major scale.

And that brings us to a close in our 4 part Guitar Soloing series. I hope that this series has inspired you to explore the amazing world of guitar soloing and that it’s given you a strong foundation of the basic concepts, theories and techniques required to start composing your own solos.

But as always remember, mastering the guitar is a never-ending journey and this is just a tiny starting point. So go seek out as much knowledge as you can and work hard every day on expanding your theoretical knowledge, technical ability and melodic sensibilities.

Scales Ebook

A good starting point that you can check out is my free guitar scale eBook which has over 84 guitar scales and arpeggio patterns, with various fingering shapes, that you can use to bolster your theoretical knowledge of the fretboard. If you are already a free member of this site, you can download the ebook from your personal download area as usual (you should have received the link in your welcome email).

Thank you for reading!

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