MMC Lesson 9: Using The Pentatonic Scale

  1. HonketyHank
    A pdf version of this lesson can be found here --->

    This lesson is part of a Study Group for Mandolin Master Class by Brad Laird.
    To start at the beginning, go to this thread:
    To purchase a copy of the book we're using, go here:
    List of all lessons in this series can be found here:
    Playlist of all lesson videos can be found here:

    Lesson Nine: Use of Pentatonic Scales in Variations and Improvisations

    We will be studying concepts from pages 22 through 26 of Mandolin Master Class by Brad Laird, so read that first. It is heavy stuff. Take your time and see if it makes sense. Do the assignments in order. When you have completed the lesson, go back and reread the material. Like I said, this is heavy stuff but you will "get it" and once you do, it is EASY stuff.

    You probably should view the videos full-screen so you can see the tabs and written stuff more clearly. To do that, you have to view the video from the YouTube site: so, click on "YouTube" down in the lower right part of the video frame. That will take you to theYouTube site to view the video and once there, you can click on the little box thingie just to the right of "YouTube" to go into full screen mode.


    1. Watch Video 1 Intro, where I tells ya what I'm a-gonna tell ya:

    2. Then watch video 2 Which chords "fit" in which key:

    Now go to the next post in this thread to view the last two videos and get to the real heart and soul of this lesson.

    To get feedback, just post a comment or video in this thread.
    You can also ask Brad Laird about any of his material at this link which he monitors:


    Previous Lesson:
    List of all Lessons:
  2. HonketyHank
    Lesson Nine (Continued): Use of Pentatonic Scales in Variations and Improvisations

    3. Fasten your seat belt and watch video 3 A G pentatonic lick over various chords in the key of G.

    4. Watch video 4 More pentatonic licks. Really, this is just the natural extension of what was started in video 3.

    Download the TablEdit file of the chord progression used in the video. Make up your own pentatonic "lick" (or use the simple one in the video) and play it while playing the .tef file in TablEdit or TEFView. Listen while you play and think about how you can improve the sound against certain chords while still using the framework of pentatonic scale notes. Try to make this boring "tune" interesting!

    TablEdit file with G-C-Em-Am-D-G chords (tef):
    This links to my Google Drive. Let me know if it doesn't work right.

    5. Very important: Re-read the material on pages 22-26. I covered some of Brad's points about ways to use pentatonic scale notes against a chord backup. Brad makes several more in addition to what I covered. By now, I think it will be easier to look at his points and say, "Yes, that does make sense and I think I can try it out".

    Make up some better pentatonic licks to use!

    Have at it!

    6. Preparing this lesson has been a valuable learning experience for me and I thank you all for tolerating my learning alongside you. Please be sure to enquire within this thread about any of the material you may be unsure of or which just doesn't sound right. As I have noted several times, this material is heavy. But once I actually tried it out with the hands-on "licks" against the chords, I thought it was too easy to be true. It is really kind of magic.

    To get feedback, just post a comment or video in the lesson nine thread.
    You can also ask Brad Laird about any of his material at this link which he monitors:


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  3. HonketyHank

    placeholder for future addenda, if necessary.

    I kinda liked the picture, so I'll leave it up.
  4. bradlaird
    Hank, I haven't made it through all of your videos here yet. I am going to try to do that today after I get Jackson off to school. And I may offer up a few thoughts.
  5. bradlaird
    Hi Hank (and other folks following this thread)!

    First, I find it fascinating to watch some real mandolin students wade through the material I put together. It helps me to know if I have been effective in communicating these ideas.

    Second, it is my guess that a fair part of the readers of these threads probably do not have the book being dissected and also may not know that I too have made a number of videos talking about these exact topics.

    For anyone who is not aware of this let me mention a couple of points which may or may not have been mentioned in these various lessons which Hank and Mark have created. (I admit I haven't watched every single one and I am probably like most folks in that regard.) Here are a couple of things which I want to share:

    1. Many of the topics being taught/discussed here in this group are already existing in the form of video lessons I created. Many of them are free lessons. For example "What Is A Pentatonic Scale?", "What Is a Chord?", etc. So, I guess all I am pointing out here is that your humble author has attempted to explain much of this material in video form too. A list of all of those video lessons is here:

    2. Every copy of Mandolin Master Class ever produced (even back in the printed book/CD days) included a variety of audio tracks to help the reader "test drive" the concepts taught in the book. This came to my mind as I watched Hank playing along with his own created chord progression in video 3 above. I guess all I would say is that if you have Master Class and have not been using the tracks you are missing out on an opportunity. In the appendix of the book I go through several pages of suggestions and instructions for using the tracks to best advantage. Just pointing the tracks out to those who don't know about them or forgot about them.

    3. The last point I want to make is to remind folks that I have a three video series that covers the same ground that Hank is showing here. Here is a link to that group of lessons:

    Maybe one of these days I will post some kind of history of how the book originated, what I was trying to accomplish, and why I ultimately created all of those videos but for now just the Reader's Digest version:

    I wrote Master Class in 2005 in response to dozens of similar questions from students of mine asking "How do I improvise?" Realizing that a certain amount of "theory" would need to be explained I created the book and included a mini-course in music theory for mandolin players. After I wrote the book I also created audio tracks to help the process. (Mentioned above.)

    Video was in its infancy then, YouTube had not even launched, and yet I thought videos would be a good way to make this information more clear. So I started filming. In fact, when YouTube did launch, I posted the first ever mandolin lesson on their site. This video led to being asked to do a series of lessons for Watch and Learn and I accepted in hopes of learning enough to do my dreamed-of Master Class DVD to go with the book. After I completed about 40 videos for them I realized that I had already done it! There was no point in shooting all of that stuff again since, in the back of my mind, Mandolin Master Class was my mental blueprint for all of those videos. So, that's the story. At least the short version.

    I hope this doesn't come across as a sales pitch. While I do like food in the fridge and gas in the car that is not my motivation for this post. It's more like making sure folks know they can ALSO get it "from the horse's mouth" so to speak in my own videos.
  6. HonketyHank
    Thanks for the comments, Brad. I confess I had forgotten about the selection of video lessons (some free and some reasonably priced) on your web site and the mp3s that came with the download. I do have a tendency to dive in before I check the depth of the water and then try to re-invent the neckbrace.

    I know we all are honored to have you join us here whenever you can. Feel free to come on in.

    I am learning a lot from this exercise. As I am sure you know, if you really want to know something about a subject, commit yourself to teaching it.
  7. bradlaird
    "if you really want to know something about a subject, commit yourself to teaching it."

    Ain't it the truth! I wrote a humorous (rhymes with humorless) blog article that gets into that.
  8. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Henry, I've been using pentatonic scales quite a bit and gaining from your materials. In addition to Tennessee Waltz, I discovered that My Girl by The Temptations is a good song for exemplifying the pentatonic scale. The well-known riff that goes with that song is nothing more than playing right up the simple major pentatonic scale! Here is a sample of it played in the key of G:

    Also, I've been tasked with learning a new song to record, and what I'm doing there is playing an mp3 of that song over and over, and experimenting with improvising over the chord progression using the pentatonic scale. I'm hoping that doing that will help me to find some ideas for creating a usable mandolin solo for that song. Really enjoying the pentatonic learning experience!
  9. HonketyHank
    Neat-o, Mark.
  10. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I have been adding HonketyHank's videos to my own YT channel as well, so that they can go into the main Mandolin Master Class videos playlist, and today I received a comment on one of Henry's videos. I'm telling it here, and including a link in case you want to reply to her, Henry:

    Catherine Carr commented: "What a great lesson!!!"
  11. HonketyHank
    Wow. I got fans! Next thing you know I'll be signing people's mandolins with a sharpie.
  12. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Be careful you can poke your eye out with those things.
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