When playing music we can use scales as a guide which will tell us what notes will work best for a particular song. The pentatonic scale is a good example. The five notes in the pentatonic are all you need sometimes, but at some point, many players want to be able to venture “outside the box”. To do this, we can simply employ the Chromatic Scale.
Every note is part of the Chromatic Scale
Yes, that’s right! Every note is part of the Chromatic Scale. In other words, we can say the Chromatic Scale has every note in it, so it’s really not a scale at all. Going from the 5 note pentatonic to every note on the fretboard may sound like a huge jump, but it’s really not if we put things in perspective.
We can always use the pentatonic as a jumping point for our leads. For example, in the audio sample below is a basic chord progression in the key of C. The progression alternates between the C and F chords until it works in a G in a slight change at the end (just before it loops back to the beginning). Take a few minutes and practice along with the audio until you have the progression down:
Chord Progression 1
With C Pentatonic Major
Here is the chord progression with an improvised lead guitar part:
In the audio sample above you can hear only notes from the C pentatonic major:
Below are the phrases tabbed out. As you can see/hear, there is nothing “outside the box”:
Thinking Outside The Box
In the audio sample below you can hear many of the same notes from the C pentatonic scale, but you can hear many more “outside” notes, too.
Below you’ll see the lead part tabbed out. See if you can find the places where phrases venture outside of the 5 notes pentatonic major:
Some of the outside notes were simply notes in between. In the 1st phrase, I rolled off of the 8th fret which is not really an in-between note (as the scale pattern would dictate), but it was an outside note in a 5-note pattern (beginning with the note on the 8th fret) used to “travel” down to a sustaining note (the 5th note).
The 4 notes leading to the note on the 5th fret are passing tones. These passing tones are quick notes that can walk up or down to a sustaining note. The sustaining note should always suggest the tonality of the song and therefore would come from the standard C pentatonic major. The passing tones don’t have to suggest the song’s tonality although some naturally will. Passing tones/notes can be any note since they don’t have to reflect the tonality/key of the song.
Chord Progression 2
The chord progression below could operate as a bridge or other change with the chord progression above. It’s in Am (which is the relative minor of C). The progression alternates begins on the A m and then goes to a G chord and then to an F chord. Take a few minutes and practice along with the audio until you have the progression down:
With C Pentatonic /Am Pentatonic
Here’s the chord progression with an improvised lead pattern that’s completely inside the box. We can use the same scale pattern as above since Am is the relative minor of C:
Thinking Outside The Box
In the audio sample below is the outside-the-box version. Try to play along to see where the outside notes come in:
Keep in mind that you don’t have to venture too far from the scale patterns when adding chromatic notes. You should use the scale pattern as a guide! That way you can find your way back home (to the correct key) at any time.
Your lead phrases are like spoken sentences. Begin or end your sentence with a note from the scale pattern.
The starting point is obviously the pentatonic notes. There are 5 of them. Since there are 12 total notes in music, that leaves you with 7 additional notes to play with.