6. Breaking out of the box

For 99% of all guitar players the pentatonic scale (most likely in the key of A) is the first scale they ever learn, and I know I’m not an exception to the rule. Although the pentatonic scale is a very sensible scale to start with it does however teaches us to look at scales as a sequence of notes played in a certain position on the fretboard, containing no more than three notes on each string. These patterns are often referred to as boxes. And what a good way to describe them, because the word boxes implies that these patterns are in some way very limiting, and I for one think that’s absolutely true.

In this first example I’ve written out the D pentatonic scale, using the most common box.

E ------------------------------------------------------------10---13--------------------------------------------------------------
B ------------------------------------------------10---13--------------------------------------------------------------------------
G ------------------------------------10---12--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D ------------------------10---12--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A ------------10---12--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -10---13-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The pentatonic scale only has 5 notes (penta meaning five, just think about the Pentagon with its five corners) so in this example the sequence is D F G A C then again one octave higher D F G A C then another D and F to complete the box.
A lot of guitar players then start to fill this box with two extra notes in order to complete a major scale. In this box, because of its shape and position on the fretboard, it’s most likely to add an E and a Bb in order to make an F major scale. The second example is an F major scale, taking place in the D pentatonic box.

E ----------------------------------------------------------------------------10---12---13-----------------------------------------
B -----------------------------------------------------------10---11---13----------------------------------------------------------
G --------------------------------------------9---10---12--------------------------------------------------------------------------
D ----------------------------------10---12----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A -----------------10---12---13----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -10---12---13--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In this sequence the first note in the box isn’t the first (or root) note of the scale, but that doesn’t really matter. The whole sequence is D E F G A Bb C D E F G A Bb C D E F. For convenience sake I’ve coloured the root notes red instead of yellow.
Although confining your solo’s to a particular box isn’t all-bad, sometimes it’s good to break out of the box and explore the fretboard horizontal as well as vertical. The third example is a riff in the key of F major, starting on the 12th position of the low E string (so it’s an E) and ending on the 22nd position of the high E string (so that would be a D). Try to memorize the notes before you speed this baby up. There’s also some sliding across the strings happening, for convenience sake I’ve coloured these slides red instead of yellow.

E -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
G --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------12---14---15~~17-
D ------------------------------------12---14---15---14---12-------------------------------12---14---15-----------------------
A ------------------12---13---15--------------------------------15---13---12---13---15----------------------------------------
E -12---13---15--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

E -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B ----------------------------------------------------------15---17---18---17---15---------------------------------15---17------
G -15---14-------------------------------14---15---17---------------------------------17---15---14---15---17-----------------
D ------------17---15---14---15---17----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

E ------15---17---18---17---15------------------------------------17---18---20~~22------------------------------------------
B -18------------------------------18---17---15~~17---18---20-----------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------