Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guitar Workshop: Pentatonic Scale

For this Thursday midday installment of “Guitar Workshop” we present a lesson I wish I'd had seven years ago.

Early in the decade I spent a lot of time on the road between DC, Baltimore, and Philly, hanging out with the zydeco music scene. The guys who came up from Louisiana found out I was pretty good with a guitar, at least as a rhythm player. I sat in for several bands over a period of about a year, and I got pretty good at it. But if there's anything to the so-called “Peter Principle” of the corporate culture, I learned the hard way at a house party outside of Baltimore.

As with any zydeco band, the accordionist/vocalist was the "front man," with a washboard player for flourish, and rhythm guitar, bass, and drums to round it out. We started doing this tune in the key of E flat. Not D or E, mind you, but E FLAT! I didn't even know they made button accordions to play in E flat. It was okay for the first two verses. Suddenly, right after the chorus, the Guy Up Front suddenly turns and says: "Yeah! Take it, Dave!"

I can't talk about what happened next. It's just too painful. To this day I keep telling myself, "It was only a house party."

It also would have been relatively easy to "fake it till you make it" had I only a scant knowledge of what's known as the pentatonic scale. This is is a musical scale with five pitches per octave, ending on the first pitch one octave higher. In the major scale, this is built on a "circle of fifths" (that's C, G, D, A, and E) which ends up being C, D, E, G, A, and again at C. (Think of "My Girl" by the Temptations. Got that? Yeah, you got it. Now then ...) The blues scale steps down to the relative minor for the first note -- in our tutorial, A, C, D, E, G, and again at A.

Here we have Danny Grady giving us the basics of the scale, and a preview of him using it to build up blues progressions that are sure to build your chops as a lead guitarist. This lesson is designed for the advanced beginner or intermediate player, someone who is ready to start playing up the neck, but doesn't know where to go once he gets there. Each segment shown here ends with identical advertisements for, featuring Elvis Presley's own Chief of Chops from the old Sun Record days, Mr Scotty Moore. You get a little taste of how he gave that southern-fried twang to that early hit, "Hound Dog."

Some of our intermediate players might make do with these samplers. For free downloads of the full, uncut, high quality videos, go to

No comments: