In the last installment, we covered a topic that I call “Two Paths”. It’s a relatively simple, yet profound, idea for playing pentatonic scales.
In a nutshell, we learn to navigate each octave of a pentatonic scale along two separate paths. This gives us more flexibility in our approach and opens up our fretboard vision.
Today’s lesson features some practical exercises for developing your Two Paths skills. These exercises should not only help you to develop more vocabulary for your lead guitar improv, but they should also help you to understand why some of your favorite solos are played the way they are.
Applying the Two Paths
I encourage my students to first run up and back on each path individually, so that they become very familiar with the fingerings and can visualize the pathways. Once you can play through each path by itself, it’s time to test your visualization and fingering abilities in some different combinations.
As in Two Paths to Pentatonic Mastery, we’ll use E minor pentatonic for our examples. The octave pathway is root-6 to root-4.
You should also note that, for Path 2, there is more than one way to shift. My preferred method, which works well for most of my students and is a no-brainer, is to play what’s already under your fingers “in position” and only shift when you must.
The alternative is to shift ahead of time, meaning before it’s absolutely necessary. I typically only shift ahead of time when there is a compelling reason to do so (see Exercise 3).
EXERCISE 1 – Path 1 ascending, Path 2 descending
For Path 2 descending, my preferred method is to shift back from the 4th (A) to b3 (G) – frets 12 to 10 on string 5 – with finger 1. An alternate method would be to shift from the 5th (B) to 4th (A) – frets 14 to 12 – with finger 3.
EXERCISE 2 – Path 2 ascending, Path 1 descending
For Path 2 ascending, my preferred method is to shift up from the 4th (A) to 5th (B) – frets 12 to 14 on string 5 – with finger 3. An alternate method would be to shift from the b3 (G) to 4th (A) – frets 10 to 12 – with finger 1.
The above concepts can and should be applied to the octaves that cover root-5 to -3, root-4 to -2 and root-3 to -1 (refer back to Two Paths to Pentatonic Mastery if you’re unsure what this means).
Covering Two Octaves
Now let’s take it up a notch by connecting through two octaves in the pathways.
The following exercises will train you to extend your lines by visualizing larger sections of the fretboard and moving through them as desired. The root notes will lie on strings 6-4-2 or on strings 5-3-1, depending on your starting position. You should ascend and descend through the octaves following the same pathways.
EXERCISE 3 – Path 1 both octaves
For Path 1 ascending, my preferred method is to shift up from b7 (D) to root note (E) on finger 1 – frets 12 to 14 on string 4 – when entering octave 2. This is the “compelling reason” I mentioned above. Shifting on finger 1 sets you up for the next Path 1. The finger 1 shift is also used in reverse when descending.
EXERCISE 4 – Path 1 first octave, Path 2 second octave
If, after shifting up string 3 on finger 3, you find it awkward to get to string 2, you can always try shifting on finger 2 instead. This will set you up nicely to finish the pattern on string 2.
EXERCISE 5 – Path 2 both octaves
Again, the finger 2 shift on string 3 may come in handy here.
EXERCISE 6 – Path 2 first octave, Path 1 second octave
This will also require the finger 1 shift from b7 (D) to root note (E) when entering octave 2.
As always, make sure that you work these two octave pathways from the root note positions on each string. This is key to mastering the concept and, by extension, the fretboard.
QUESTION: Are you able to visualize the two-octave pathways? Which exercise do you find most challenging? Leave me a comment below!