How to Connect the Pentatonic Patterns on the Guitar

When you feel comfortable playing through all five pentatonic scale patterns on the guitar, the next step is to connect them to cover the rest of the fretboard. To do so, simply connect pattern 5 to another pattern 1, as shown here.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

This new pattern 1 is identical to the original except that it’s located an octave higher on the fretboard. You no longer use open strings — instead you must fret every note between frets 12 and 15. Notice that the new pattern 1 reuses a portion of pattern 5.

Because pattern 1 spans across four frets, you can try the one-finger-per-fret fingering. However, using just two or three fingers also works well in this position, where the fret spacing is narrow.

By connect the patterns, what is meant is to play up and down each pattern and then move to the next position and play up and down that pattern. When you finish a pattern in one direction, stop and restart the same pattern in the opposite direction. Then stop again, lift your fingers, move to the next position, and begin playing up and down the next pattern.

Beware that this does not mean you should be able to play through all the patterns without stopping. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should be able to play the pentatonic notes in order from one end of the neck to the other without repeating notes. You’re going to stop and start, and you’re going to repeat notes because the same notes make up all the pentatonic patterns.

How to connect the patterns in ascending order

From the new pattern 1, you can connect to another pattern 2, also an octave higher from the original. Continue to connect patterns until you either run out of fretboard or, as is the case on acoustic guitar, you can’t reach any higher. Here is a fretboard diagram with 24 frets showing what the pentatonic scale notes look like between frets 12 and 24. Can you make out all five?

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

The narrower the fret spacing, the more difficult it is use a one-finger-per-fret fingering. You may not even be able to fit three fingers in the highest positions. When you’re reaching to the very end of the neck, just go with whichever fingers fit. You may also try reeling your head back and making a face like you’re writhing in pain — that’s what Hendrix did and the crowd loved it!

How to connect the patterns in descending order

After you finish connecting the patterns in a forward fashion, restart where you left off and move backward.

For example, say that you left off with pentatonic pattern 4 between frets 19 and 22. Pattern 4 connects backward to pattern 3, 3 connects back to 2, 2 connects back to 1, and 1 connects back to 5. From there, you can play patterns 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1, ending in the open position where you first practiced pattern 1.

How to change directions and mix patterns

As you connect the patterns, you don’t have to start every pattern on string 6. You can start on string 1 and play down the pattern (descending) first and then up the pattern (ascending) second. Whatever you do to connect the patterns, just be sure to practice playing each pattern in both directions.

After you master how to play up and down each pattern, you can try alternating the direction in which you start for each pattern as you connect. For example, play pattern 1 ascending only, then play pattern 2 descending only, then play pattern 3 ascending only, and so on.

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