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Note: Prior knowledge of the five Minor Pentatonic box patterns and the 7 modal shapes is helpful for understanding this lesson, but not absolutely necessary.
Objective: To help guitarists already familiar with the pentatonic scale to learn and utilize the modes in their lead guitar playing.
You can receive a free companion pentatonic scale lesson instantly by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a guitarist, I am primarily self-taught and didn’t have any formal music theory training in the early stages of my playing. The first scales that I learned were the five positions or box patterns of the minor pentatonic scale. I wrote the diagrams out by hand, and would play (and draw) them constantly.
When I was first exposed to the seven modes of the major scale, I did the same thing; sketched the fretboard diagrams, studied how the shapes fit together, etc. Even after I had the modal shapes memorized, I was still having a difficult time actually applying them to my lead playing. Seven shapes just seemed like too many after becoming so accustomed to the five box patterns of the pentatonic scale.
Then I came up with an idea: What if I divided the modes of the major scale up into 5 scale chunks, based on the five Minor Pentatonic box patterns that I was already comfortable with? This way I would only have to add a couple of new notes to each of the 5 pentatonic boxes! For lack of a better name, I’ve decided to call this the Pentamodal Idea.
To demonstrate, let’s work out an example for a scale which is commonly used in rock guitar lead playing - the 6th mode of the Major Scale, Aeolian mode (a.k.a. the Natural Minor scale). The following examples are in the key of A minor.
Here is our 1st Pentamodal shape, Aeolian Mode:
Aeolian Mode w/ A Minor Pentatonic box 1 notes circled
We will skip Locrian, the mode that would normally follow Aeolian, since its first note (B at the 7th fret of the low E string) does not align with our A Minor Pentatonic scale box patterns.
This brings us to Pentamodal Pattern #2, Ionian Mode:
Ionian Mode w/ A Minor Pentatonic box 2 notes circled
Note: Keep in mind that even though we may have skipped over the Locrian Mode, its notes are still available for us to use in our soloing via patterns 1 and 2, we just aren’t thinking of it as its own individual shape or box pattern.
Continuing in order, Pattern #3 consists of the Dorian shape:
Dorian Mode w/ A Minor Pentatonic box 3 notes circled
Next is Pattern #4, which includes the Phrygian mode:
Phrygian Mode w/ A Minor Pentatonic box 4 notes circled
We will skip the mode that would normally follow Phrygian, (Lydian) because its first note does not align with the Minor Pentatonic scale box pattern in our A Aeolian-based example.
This brings us to our 5th and final pattern, using the Mixolydian mode:
Mixolydian Mode w/ A Minor Pentatonic box 5 notes circled
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I hope this lesson has helped you to begin to implement modal sounds into your guitar playing.
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