Guitarists: Spice Up Your Pentatonic Licks With Just Two Notes – Guest Blog by MG Tutor James Barratt

Don’t bore yourself and your audience (whoever they are) playing the same old patterns and licks!


I’m going to show you two simple ways of adding extra 🌶‘flavour’🌶 to your pentatonic licks.

You’ll be able to follow this with basic knowledge of the minor pentatonic scale, which to remind you goes

Minor Pentatonic: Root – flat 3rd – 4th – 5th – flat 7th

Cminor Pentatonic: C – Eb – F – G – Bb

These licks are all based around the Cm pentatonic ‘box’ shape, but you can apply this thinking in lots of contexts.

Step 1 – Base Lick – Cm Pentatonic Scale

Let’s start with a ‘base lick’ using only notes from the Cm pentatonic scale.



It already sounds pretty cool right? You can certainly generate some great ideas from just the basic five note pentatonic scale

However let’s go into a bit more in depth…


Step 2 – Add The Blues

The most common way of adding flavour to your pentatonic licks is by adding ‘the blues note‘. Yes it’s actually called that! And that magical note is – the flattened 5th

So our scale goes from

Cm Pentatonic: R b3 4 5 b7 (C Eb F G Bb)


C Blues: R b3 4 b5 5 b7 (C Eb F Gb G Bb)

We now have an extra note to play with and in this second lick you’ll hear from the more bluesy vibe that I’ve added a couple of instances of the blues note (highlighted by the blue arrows).


I also incorporated another simple but effective bluesy ‘trick’ here, by bending the last note of bar 1 up a semitone (from Eb to E). By doing that we are playing with the tonality of the lick, bending from a minor 3rd (Eb) to a major 3rd (E). It’s an extremely common and easy technique to deploy and can instantly give your licks a lift if they’re feeling a little bit flat.

Right let’s go further down the rabbit hole…


 Step 3 – Dorian FTW!

We’re going to add a little ‘modal’ theory. DON’T RUN AWAY!! This is super simple and when used in the right places will sound absolutely great.

Check out lick three…


There is in fact only one note different between licks 2 and 3. Can you can hear it in bar 3 over the F7 chord?

The note I’ve added here is A.

Our scale has now become a bit of a hybrid of the blues scale and the dorian mode (more on this in a minute):

R b3 4 b5 5 6 b7 (C Eb F Gb G A Bb)

The Dorian mode is the second mode of the major scale, you can think of it as the natural minor scale with a raised 6th. We have taken the defining note of the Dorian mode (the major 6th, in this case A) and placed it in our blues scale.

It works fantastically well over the F7 chord because A is a ‘chord tone’ of F7. In fact, anytime you come across chord IV in a blues progression (in this case our F7 chord) it’s a fantastic time to deploy that dorian note for some killer flavour!🌶🎸🌶🎸

I hope you enjoyed the lesson. Use it to inject some more spice into any stale licks you have knocking around.

Check out the video lessons on my site, and please SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel. And if you have friend who is a relative beginner on guitar, point them toward my foundations of rock guitar technique course on MusicGurus.

James Barratt

By | 2016-11-25T12:58:28+00:00 October 27th, 2016|Artists, Think pieces|0 Comments

About the Author:

James is a respected session guitarist. He has worked with artists and producers including the Stereophonics, Ronnie Dunn, Scissor Sisters and many more. He also composes music for television and film, such as Sony Walkman's 'Music Pieces' television commercial or the Albatross film trailer.

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