Lessons and Training

Pentatonic Condundrums – Which Product to Choose

With so many products available on what I consider to be a very important subject (with one or two more I have yet to review) this is one area of guitar playing in particular that can raise more questions than any other if you are searching for a comprehensive product to base your studies on. Considering that for many players across various styles of music the pentatonic scale is almost inevitably the “go to” scale for improvisations and solos it’s vitally important to be able to not only play the scale in all it’s permutations but also to be able to make a musical statement.

Now, ignoring for a moment the huge amount of pentatonic scales that don’t follow the 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 (minor) or 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 (major) intervallic structure we are left with the potential for spending a considerable amount of time and money on even the most “basic” permutation – so which product is right for you?

Pentatonic Concepts – Alex Machacek

Power Pentatonics – Jamie Humphries

Metal Edge Extreme Pentatonic Licks – Andy James

Extreme Pentatonics – Rusty Cooley

Pentatonic Passages – Derryl Gabel

The first thing you need to decide is very simply what sort of player you are, and what you hope to achieve musically. If you are a die hard blues man then my initial answer is that you don’t need any of the above products as I have been somewhat lazy and neglected to review a fantastic pair of books by Robben Ford; The Blues and Beyond and Blues for Guitar (You could also include The Art of Blues Rhythm for the sake of completeness). I am not a blues musician but I do know quality products when I see them and Robben covers everything you might ever need there – double stops, bends, vibrato, altered pentatonic scales, passing tones etc etc….so if the Blues is your bag then those are my recommendations for you.

Now, for the Jazz and Fusion aficionados amongst you, I can offer a little guidance. Although the above list is lacking the rather fantastically titled Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts: A Pentatonic Modal Approach to Improvisation by Ronald S. Lemos (again, I will get around to reviewing that, I promise) both Alex Machacek’s and Derry Gabel’s DVD’s are going to be of interest to you and whilst I would lean towards the later (it’s simply more complete) it is also somewhat more demanding of you as a player in that a number of advanced economy picking and legato lines are covered. The former has a slightly less advanced player in mind – which is no comment on Alex’s playing as he is quite monstrous – and therefore is more accessible for those new to the subject.

Both cover the use of the pentatonic scale to improvise over different chord types (using a pentatonic or blues scale up a fifth for a m7 chord etc) but Derryl’s provides both .pdf and power tab files, as well as a list of the forumla that while they both refer to, Alex is prevented from providing tablature for – as I have said before the fact that the Lick Library is based in the UK does put them on the back foot simply because of copyright issues and European laws. If I had to choose one it would be Derryl’s simply because as a player myself it provides the best value for money.

I’ll talk about Jamie’s DVD for a minute – I honestly believe it’s going to be of interest to a player of any style. There’s simply so much useful information (especially for CAGED players) that anyone can benefit from it and it’s great value for money. Given the length of the video and the range of subjects if there were one Pentatonic DVD I would label as essential this is it.

Now, the easy part – both of the remaining DVD’s are for the shredding/metalhead fraternity. Both Andy and Rusty are terrific players but again, the damnable EU laws prevent Lick Library from adding tablature to the DVD. If I were being utterly frank I would actually say “buy both” as have sufficiently different approaches and methodologies as to make each a worthwhile purchase if Shred is your thing. Andy’s is aimed a wider section of the guitar-playing audience with a more eclectic range of approaches whereas Rusty’s is very much aimed at the full-on/high tech school of playing and the slightly more advanced player. Each has their advantages so I would urge you to treat them as equally valuable.

Two further recommendations should be mentioned at this point:

Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts: A Pentatonic Modal Approach to Improvisation by Ronald S Lemos

Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns by Nicolas Slonimsky

The latter work does not deal exclusively with pentatonic scales but the section on the possible permutations of five note scales is unsurpassed for completeness and whilst there are those variations which you would be almost utterly unable to use in practical situations there are many choices which lend themselves beautifully to the guitar. The former deals with the practical applications of several other alterations and manipulations of the pentatonic scale which I would have no hesitation in recommending – bear in mind both these titles are of more use to a player with a better grasp on theory than a typical beginner of intermediate guitarist would typically possess.

(For examples of the Slominsky approach I’ve uploaded a video in the Resources section as made and played by Keith Whalen – it’s excellent stuff)

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December 28th, 2009

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