Pentatonic scale extensions are a good way to move out of the common box patterns typically used the learn the scale. The extended pentatonic scale naturally creates a flow that helps us break out of the feeling of being “trapped” when strictly playing within the boxed patterns and allows you to seamlessly move between scale positions.
Extending the pentatonic scale is also a great way to expand your knowledge of the fretboard and help to visualize the scale connections up and down the fretboard.
For review, the pentatonic scale is a 5 note scale derived from its parent major or minor scale. For the examples in this lesson, we’ll be using the minor pentatonic. The minor pentatonic scale consists of the following intervals:
CAGED Pentatonic Scale Shapes
These 5 intervals can be found all over the fretboard and if you’re familiar with the CAGED system, then you know the pentatonic scale can be broken into 5 different positions or patterns. These positions, or boxes, give us an easy way to visualize the scale across the fretboard.
It’s important to note that all of the positions contain the same five notes of the scale. So while we tend to learn the scale vertically (across the fretboard), the scale can be played up and down the fretboard as well by extending the scale horizontally between positions.
The Extended Pentatonic Scale
Extending the pentatonic scale simply refers to taking the traditional scale shape and extending it into an adjacent position. So, instead of playing the scale across the fretboard vertically, you transition up or down the fretboard. The extended pentatonic scale allows you to fluidly move between the pentatonic positions, particularly with ascending/descending runs.
Extending Position 1 of the Minor Pentatonic Scale
Since the first position of the minor pentatonic scale is far and away the most used, we’re going use this position as our starting point on which we’ll build our extensions. However, you can start from any and all positions as the concept isn’t limited to the first position.
Also, it’s important to note that each extension can be treated as its own separate scale and practiced as any other pentatonic scale shape. Any exercises you’ve applied to the regular, CAGED, scale shapes can be applied to these as well.
Transitioning to another position in the scale can be done multiple ways. I tend to prefer sliding up to the next position in most cases, but sometimes you can straight pick it. How you transition between positions is up to you, and when applied in the real world will likely be influenced by the musical context.
In the first extension we’re going to take the first position of the scale and extend it into the second position of the scale. Again, all positions of the scale contain the same five notes, so we technically can connect the positions in multiple ways. You’ll find some connections easier to play than others, and for that reason some are more common in music than others.
You start by playing the first position of the scale as normal and when you hit the 7th fret of the 3rd string (p4), you slide up to the second position of the scale to play the final 5 notes of the second position.
The second extension will span to incorporate the third position of the scale into the first two. After the first four notes of the first position, you move up to the second position to play the♭7 note.
You use the ♭7 note again, 3rd string, 12th fret, to transition to the third position and finish the extension of the scale.
The third extension brings in the fourth position of the pentatonic scale. It begins much the same as the second extension until you get to the second p4, which is played in the third position. The extension moves to the fourth position at the root note on the 14th fret of the 3rd string and finishes off the scale.
The fourth and final extension brings the fifth position into the fold, thereby spanning all five positions of the scale.
In order to get through all five positions, you need to transition rather quickly between each. For this reason, this pentatonic scale extension feels a bit more rushed and less natural.
That said, it’s still great to learn because it spans most of the fretboard and builds additional connections between the positions.
Main Pentatonic Scale Extension
Now that we’ve gone through each position of the pentatonic scale and how to extend it up the fretboard, there’s one particular extension you should familiarize yourself with more than any other. This is because it’s used more than any other, particularly in rock and blues.
This extension combines the 5th, 1st, and 2nd positions of the minor pentatonic. Spend a lot of time getting familiar with this particular extension. You can get a lot of mileage out of these notes.
The extended pentatonic scale opens up the door to a variety of new uses for the scale and expands your knowledge of the scale up and down the fretboard. Learning and applying these extensions are great ways to utilize more of the fretboard and break out of the pentatonic box shapes you’re accustomed to using.