Beyond the Box: Five Phrases to Get You Out of the Pentatonic Rut

Five ways to push the pentatonic box’s boundaries and even break them altogether.
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It’s easy to get stuck in the pentatonic box playing the same five notes over and over. In this lesson, we’ll look at five ways to push the box’s boundaries and even break them altogether. 

FIGURE 1

This line demonstrates the slick sound that’s characteristic when combining the minor and major 3rd (C and C#) of A in a single lick. Also notice the use of F# (6th) instead of G (b7th)—a trademark of B.B. King.

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FIGURE 2

Here’s a triplet-based line that incorporates both major and minor pentatonic notes, along with an added b9th (Bb) that’s not typically found in blues improvisations.

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FIGURE 3

Two elements are at work here: chromaticism and string bends. The pickup notes comprise a hornlike figure common in jazz, while the bends utilize fingerings somewhat uncommon in blues.

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FIGURE 4

This line exploits the chord movement in a cadence (bars 9 and 10 of a 12-bar blues), a technique often referred to as “following the changes.” It’s a catchy melodic motif made of single notes and double-stops.

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FIGURE 5

Here again is the use of chromaticism—in fact, a total of eight different pitches are used. Notice the classic resolution of the 3rd (C#) up to the root (A) at the end of this lick.

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