Rethink your approach to pentatonic shapes by pushing the limits of your picking.

Advanced

Beginner

• Visualize different string groupings for pentatonic scales.
• Understand the basics of economy picking.
• Learn how to create lines in the style of Eric Johnson, Shawn Lane, and Joe Bonamassa.

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When I first heard about economy picking, the simplicity intrigued me. The concept is relatively straightforward: After a downstroke, if you're moving to a higher string, you make another downstroke. If you travel to a lower string, that requires an upstroke. Many beginners often intuitively do this. It wasn't until a bit later that I adopted a regimen of strict alternate picking for scales and sweep picking for arpeggios. But the idea of economy picking echoed in my mind. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have one picking style that could fluidly transition from arpeggios to scales? As time went on, I explored players like Django Reinhardt, Frank Gambale, and George Bellas, and economy picking naturally found its way into more of my technique.

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Not all pentatonic scales are created equal.


Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview:
• Develop an understanding of the Hirajōshi scale and its modes.
• Learn how to apply traditional Japanese sounds to Western tonalities.
• Create compelling lines based on variations of the pentatonic scale.


Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Japanese pentatonic scales are an improvisational home base for many musicians—certainly guitarists, whether they know it or not. Some of the scales, such as Ryo, are simply the major pentatonic scale, and it’s hard to say whether it’s first use was in Japan or much earlier in African and European folk songs. Other scales, however, have a distinct Japanese flavor to them. We’re going to investigate five of these scales, which are really just modes of the same scale, and see how they can be used both melodically and harmonically in such different genres as metal, blues, and even jazz fusion.

The main scale we’ll check out is called Hirajōshi. There are five forms, or inversions, of this scale, each with its own distinct tonality. It is important to know that these scales are actually derived from tunings of the koto, a 13-string instrument from Japan. The formula for the scale is 1–2–b3–5–b6. In the key of A, for example, that’s A–B–C–E–F. You could think of it as a natural minor scale without the 4 and b7. Ex. 1 shows a three-octave fingering for the scale.

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