Learn a Lick 7- The pentatonic Box

Guitar Scales

The following post talks about scales. If you really want to learn every major, minor and pentatonic scale for guitar (along with the chord-tone arpeggios), you’ll want to get my new ebook ‘Advanced Guitar Basics: Scales and Arpeggios’ (click the link for more!).

So, here’s a lick that’s great for soloing with over blues-rock or metal tracks and it fits really well into the infamous ‘pentatonic box’. In fact, I used to use it all the time with my old band.

It goes well over powerchords, or full minor chords. You could also try it with minor 7ths, or even minor 6ths (if you’re feeling adventurous!). However, it is more of a metal lick and so probably works best over powerchords, and it’s probably too ‘angular’ sounding for blues.

First of all, we’re using the first shape of the pentatonic scale (the ‘box’ that many guitarists get stuck in). In the first example in the video, I play the lick in the key of E minor, which means starting this shape from the 12th fret. Later on, I demonstrate how to change the key, by starting the same thing in the 5th position for A minor.

Here’s the shape, if you don’t already know it:

first shape of the minor pentatonic also known as the blues box on guitar

And here is the lick in the key of E minor, as I play it in the video:

a pentatonic box shape lick that works in the key of E minor for metal solos

Note Groupings

When I first created this lick, I wasn’t really thinking about the note groupings, which means two things:

  • A) The notes are grouped a bit weirdly
  • B) This odd note grouping is great for creating tension

As you can see in the tab, below, the lick actually uses a group of nine notes. There are the first six notes, and then a linking group of three. As we’re playing 6 notes for each beat, this creates some tension, as the number of notes in the pattern doesn’t fit evenly into each beat.

using different note groupings over the beat to create tension in a lick

This is why I personally like to use patterns like this when increasing the tension of a solo, to build things up. Of course, the lick needs to resolve somewhere! In this case, I play a short bluesy phrase at the end, finishing on the root note (E on the 17th fret of the B string).

However, if you’re in a more metal setting, you could continue with something different, as I demonstrate in the video.

Changing Things Up

If you don’t like the sound of alternate picking, or you just want to mix things up, this lick works well with hammer-ons, too. The tab below shows how to play this same lick with hammer-ons and pull-offs.

pentatonic box shape lick played with hammer-ons and pull-offs

This type of playing has a totally different sound for the same lick, and is called ‘legato’. I continue this type of ‘smoother’ sound by using a slide in the last part of the lick to reach the 17th fret. Then the lick ends with a bend, as it did before.

As I mentioned, this lick just fits into the first shape of the pentatonic. This means that it’s really easy to move it to different keys by just starting at different parts of the neck.

The below example is the same lick in the key of A minor, instead of E minor. This one will fit over A minor chords, or A power chords.

the pentatonic box shape lick transposed to the key of A minor

I hope this has given you something to practise, or at least given you some ideas to add to your own playing. Remember: it’s not important to learn everything exactly as it is here (although you can do that, too…). What’s really important is that you learn from the ideas here and how to apply them to your own playing.

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