SPOILER ALERT: If you practice pentatonic box patterns day and night, you will get better…
…better at playing pentatonic boxes.
As they say in baseball, you play how you practice. And if you practice your pentatonic scales and box patterns until you’re blue in the face, you will no doubt be pretty good at playing those box patterns.
The problem is you don’t learn a thing about playing real music, just scales. Just boxes. When we jam, we don’t want to sound like we’re playing scales.
Many of us get caught in this trap. Learn box – get comfortable with box – find ways out of the box.
It seems silly. And I think we are only doing this because nearly every instructional guitar course in existence teaches this method. It’s a classic case of everyone else is doing it.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain
Thinking there’s another way goes against most popular guitar instructors, videos and books and to be honest, it sounds like guitar heresy. But..
Think Outside the Box
I don’t think I fully started to understand the fretboard and scale construction (at least as much as I do) until I changed my approach. I was frustrated, confused and at some point, determined to break out of the boxes. To this goal, I began looking at scales, well, differently. I stopped viewing them as patterns on the neck and started looking at them in a more musical sense. A novel thought, right?
I saw a disconnect between what my brain thought was a scale and what my fingers were playing. I finally started making that visual connection with the scale, when I ditched the box patterns and started playing my scales on one string.
Read more about playing scales on one string here.
Break Through the Frustration
The pentatonic boxes really help at “positional playing” – playing within just a few frets, usually four. But as guitarists, we want to fly up and down the neck with ease. For some reason, we are attracted to that almost from the beginning and since a command of the entire fretboard doesn’t usually come quickly enough, we get frustrated.
Breaking through the frustration is worth the effort. Being able to use the entire fretboard is a sign of true understanding of the instrument. There are different tones, octaves and possibilities all over the neck. So, take some time to be comfortable up and down the neck. Not just in the boxes.
Plus: It just looks so cool to fly up and the neck with ease.
My method of learning how to do that is simple, not easy. And it takes practice.
Playing Scales Up and Down the Neck
Don’t Give Up the Boxes Forever
But don’t make them the only way to practice, the boxes help you squeeze some good licks out of key positions on the neck. Would the Chuck Berry riff have been invented without box one?
But work this one string approach into practicing your pentatonic scales. While you’re at it, give a little one string improvising a try too. You’ll be surprised at how you can practice your scales, reinforce the musical structure of the scale and have a little fun – all at the same time.