In this article we will look at two pentatonic licks that exit the box pattern. They are two licks that are essentially exactly the same notes, but repeated over three octaves.

What is the Pentatonic Scale?

There are two types of Pentatonic scales that guitarists refer to: the Minor and the Major pentatonic.

The Minor Pentatonic scale is quite simple. Here is the fingering pattern:

Fingering for the minor pentatonic

The Major Pentatonic scale contains the same notes as the minor pentatonic but starting and ending on the second degree. 

major pentatonic

What is the Pentatonic Box Pattern?

The pentatonic box pattern is a way of representing all the notes in the pentatonic scale in one simple diagram.

Unfortunately it doesn't show all of the playable notes in the scale. So, to create a tasty pentatonic lick, we can't limit ourselves to using the box pattern.

What are the steps to create a tasty pentatonic lick?

First, we need to know the names of all the notes in the scale. For example, in the B Minor pentatonic scale the notes are B, D, E, F sharp, and A.

Now you can go ahead and write your lick, using the notes you identified in the previous step. One way to develop licks is to purchase a book with lots and lots of licks in it, like the book Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing, Volume 1 by Ted Greene.

After you have identified the notes in your scale, you need to locate where the notes are located on the fretboard of the guitar. In certain cases you can use the "box pattern" to locate notes in the pentatonic scale.

The Problem with the Box Pattern for Creating Licks

For our example of the B Minor pentatonic scale, all these notes are located in the "box shape" at the seventh fret.

There’s a problem with the pentatonic box shape : if you have only memorized the notes that are inside of the box, it’s impossible to get out of the box, i.e. play notes that are part of the scale that are outside of the box.

Because we have only learned the scale using the box pattern, we are stuck unless we know the notes of the scale which are outside of the box. This involves ditching the box shape entirely in my case, and just learning the lick with notes located outside of the box.

So I set myself a challenge.

For this challenge I wanted to use the same lick which I could play in all three registers of the guitar. Sort of like what you find in the piano book by Hanon.

If you don't know which book I am talking about, you didn't grow up in a household with a sibling who took piano lessons. The Hanon book in question is Le Pianiste virtuose en 60 exercices, calculés pour acquérir l'agilité, l'indépendance, la force et la plus parfaite égalité des doigts ainsi que la souplesse des poignets. In this book, the student must play the same formula from the low register all the way to the high register. It's ardouous to practice, and just about as difficult on the ears of other members of the household.

The Difficulty in Playing the Same Lick Across All Octaves on Guitar

Anyway, taking a scale pattern and transposing it up an octave is relatively simple to do on the piano, because the keyboard layout doesn't change across all octaves. Not so easy on the guitar, because the fingering for a given scale is not the same depending on which register you are in.

This is the first lick that I came up with over three octaves - I managed to throw in some groovy bends.

I’ve also composed a backing track to the music with some jazz chords that you'll hear in the Youtube video below.

Now for the second lick.

This lick was actually easier to compose, as the middle octave of this lick is entirely inside the pentatonic box pattern.

Now it's your turn

If you want to try this challenge out yourself, I am starting the #3octavelickchallenge.

You need to write a lick that spans three octaves and that is exactly the same in all three octaves.

It doesn’t have to be notes from the pentatonic scale. You can use any scale that I outlined in my article on mastering scales. All you need are the notes of that scale and a lick that you can repeat over three octaves: low, medium and high.

Post a video of your lick with the hashtag #3octavelickchallenge

For the tabs to the example in this article, check out the Free Resource webpage.

Tab Download