Pentatonic Scales Part 5

Licks. Phrases. Connections. That’s what we’re about today. Everyone knows there’s a big diffrence between simply playing a scale up and down versus playing phrases that sound good in a solo. So today, let’s look at some things to boost your lead vocabulary and confidence to play your own tasty solos.

For those who are checking this out for the first time, you might like to see the other posts that have lead up to this one. They are Pentatonic Scales Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Also, here’s the lesson guide for today.

Have you ever asked yourself this question:

What makes a good solo?

It’s a very good question.

Think about some of your favourite solos. What elements make up that solo?

Most lead guitar solos that have heavily influenced me usually include the following things:

  • Direction: the solo has different phrases that are seperate which almost tells a story.
  • A variety of techniques, such as bends, vibrato, slides, hammer on’s and pull off’s, maybe even pinch harmonics and whammy ideas.
  • Phrases that are long, short, simple, complex, melodic, angular.
  • Tone and effects: Which pickup on the guitar they’re using, clean or distortion, reverb, delay, chorus, wah.
  • Space: as in moments where there is no playing at all.
  • Rhythmic Variation: on the beat, syncopation, different rhythm divisions like 1/4, 1/8, triplets, 1/16th notes.
  • And here’s a big one…notes from outside the pentatonic scale!!!

I’ll quickly talk about that last point.

This whole series has been based around the Minor and Major pentatonic scales. These scales are brilliant because every note fits nearly all the time. They’re safe.


Some of the real magic happens outside of these notes. Now, I don’t actually want to go into detail about that here because that is a subject that needs a whole post or series devoted to it. However, many of the licks and ideas we look at today will include notes from outside the pentatonic scale mixed in.

What Are We Doing Today?

There are literally thousands of licks that could be demonstrated but for today I’ll show you a few licks for each category below. Remember, a thousand licks are no good to you if you can’t remember them. Much better to have less that you can actually use.

Licks are great because they can inspire what you might improvise around them, or you can manipulate them to create new ones.

So our licks will broadly fit into these categories.

  1. Bends
  2. Blues inspired
  3. Multi-position
  4. Double stops

And last of all, one more solo, this time in a blues ballad context.

Bendy Licks

The big deal with bends is to make sure you know what you’re bending to. Bending a string in a half hearted way just sounds out of tune and unconfident. When bending, be clear in your head what you want the note to sound like. Bending is a big subject. These licks will include the following techniques:

  • Bending a tone up or whole step (two frets)
  • Bending a semitone up or half step (one fret)
  • Bend and hold
  • Bend and release

When bending try to keep all unused strings silent. This can be the difference between bends sounding clear and powerful and bends sounding obscure and vague.

All Licks will be performed twice in each audio example.

Lick 1: Bend up and hold. 

This lick uses a whole step bend at the end which we want to hold for the rest of the bar. Try to stay in tune as you hold this bend.

Lick 2: Pre bend and release.

This lick begins by pre bending the 14th fret of the 3rd string up a whole step. We then pick the note and release it down to its normal pitch.

Lick 3: Bend and release. 

This lick focuses on bending a note up and then down. Only pick the note once and let the note ring while bending up and down.

Bluesy Licks

To give the minor pentatonic a blues flavour we can add in a note called the flat 5th, and sometimes a major 3rd of the chord we are playing over.

Now, if that last sentence makes no sense – don’t worry! Just try the licks anyway and soak up the sound. I’ll write more about blues improvisation in another post. All I’ll say here is if you add the note B flat, into your existing E minor pentatonic patterns, you’ll be playing an E blues scale – very cool!

Lick 4: Bluesy B Flat. 

Watch out for the quick hammer on – pull off technique at the beginning of this lick. Also there is a large string skip that will take some getting used to.

Lick 5: Love that flat 5. 

The repeated use of the B flat note added to this minor pentatonic idea really adds a bluesy feel.

Lick 6: Ascending Blues Scale. 

This phrase is not overly difficult. The idea is more about placing it late in the first bar. This encourages space and waiting in your soloing. Space can be a good thing!

Show ’Em Who’s Boss Licks

Having spent all that time learning the 5 pentatonic patterns it’s nice to have some licks that horizontally move through several patterns. They look cool, they sound impressive and they’re fun to play.

Lick 7: Minor Pentatonic ascending lick – it feels good. 

This is a fun minor pentatonic lick that connects multiple patterns together. You can choose to simply slide at the indicated sections or slide and re pick the note.

Lick 8: ‘Descendy Bendy’ B string. 

This lick has a more Natural minor sound rather than pentatonic. The trick with this is getting those bends in tune. This lick does require good control.

Lick 9: Horizontal two string motif. 

Here’s another fun multi position lick, this time based on an 8 note motif which moves through different pentatonic patterns. You might like to incorporate some slides in this phrase when shifting positions.

Hey Guys, Watch This – Two Notes At Once!

When we play two notes at once we’re doing something called ‘double stops’. These can have a powerful sound and add texture to your phrases. Check these out.

Lick 10: Descending double stops – 4ths and 3rds. 

There are often situations in pentatonic scales where there are notes in the same fret on consecutive strings. This lick demonstrates how musical they can sound. You might like to barre the notes that are in the same fret.

Lick 11: That lick! 

If you’ve ever listened to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn or John Mayer you would be familiar with this kind of lick. This is comprised of double stops with hammer on’s, pull off’s and slides.

Lick 12: A little bit country. 

The trick with this lick is holding the bend and keeping it ringing while triggering the note on the string underneath. Again, be careful to bend in tune.

Over To You

Hopefully the licks above have given you some ideas for how you might take your pentatonic playing to new heights. The more solo’s you listen to and licks you experiment with, the easier it will be to control the sounds you want to create in your own solos.

To wrap things up, here’s one last solo for you try. We’ll be playing over a Bluesy Soul Ballad in Em.

Why this style? It’s a great style for playing with expression and well…Soul!

Don’t forget to try making up your own solo’s over the extended backing track.

Don’t forget the lesson guide which you can get here.

Note: This solo has a couple of licks which require a 1/4 note bend. Simply put, we want to bend the note up, but not as far as the next fret. You kind of just want to bend them a little out of tune. Now, I know I’ve been saying bend in tune, but in blues bending the right notes a little here and there can add a lot of authenticity.

Good luck!

Bluesy Ballad Solo Demonstration: I show you.

Slowed Down Bluesy Ballad Solo Demonstration: 15BPM Slower.

Bluesy Ballad Solo Backing Track: You Try.

Extended Bluesy Ballad Backing Track: Jam to this with your own ideas.

About the author

I'm really excited to be teaching guitar. Not many people receive the joy that I feel when seeing the progress of each of my students. It's truly a privilege, and I'd love you to join me.  

As I'm sure you know, learning guitar is a long journey, so you must be committed to it. But, if you're willing to put in some hard work for some big rewards, come and join me! 

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