Three Note Per String Pentatonics

Posted Thu, Dec 11, 2014 by Levi Clay

In this short lesson we're going to talk about the history of technique driven guitar playing by looking at the rise of the 3 note per string pentatonic scale.

As the name would suggest, the 3 note per string fingerings of the pentatonic scale contain 3 notes on each string which can cause problems for anything but advanced players as they require some serious hand stretches, especially down on the low end of the guitar.

We won't talk about who “invented” the technique, because it wasn't really invented at all, it was always there and some players found it and used it, but it would seem fair to say that it was players like Paul Gilbert and even Frank Gambale who really brought it into the public eye.

Check out this video of Paul Gilbert playing Colorado Bulldog with Mr Big and pay attention to how outrageous that intro lick is



So why bother? Well for anyone familiar with the 3 note per string diatonic scale system, you'll probably agree that a lot of your rock/shred vocabulary is mechanic based. What I mean by that is that if you do an ascending note lick in one shape, all you need to know is the next shape and you can play the same lick starting on a new note. The picking hasn't changed at all, neither has the shape of the phrase, just the fingering. This means you can get immense mileage out of such a simple 6 note phrase. In fact, that's exactly what's going on with Paul in this lick.



The best way to start working on these ideas is getting used to the stretching involved. In the following diagram I've written out shape 1 and 2 of the minor pentatonic scale that could be played as one “master” shape.



Now the issue there would be the obvious repeating note, the 3rd note on the E string is the same as the first note on the A string etc. The way around this is to either use string skipping... or to try and change position with each string change so the scale continues. I've written that out below in Eminor, it's certainly not easy.



There's obviously a ton of things you can do with this, and many players have made it a big feature of their own playing, from US shred legends like Derek Taylor and Rusty Cooley to our own Andy James and Sam Bell.



Fellow 8 string monster and Guitar Idol finalist Morgan Reid was recently in the studio and he decided to record some licks for us, and one was this tricky little 3 note per string B minor picking lick. It's certainly not easy to get up to speed, but the question is, how fast can you get it?



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