Diagonal Pentatonics

I’ve encountered countless intermediate guitar players who find themselves stuck inside the pentatonic box. They’ve learned some of the standard “box” shapes, derived from the CAGED System, for the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales, but now they find they can’t break out of those shapes; they’re always relying on them.

The first step to breaking free is finding ways to slip between the shapes you already know. You don’t want to abandon the CAGED system; it’s always helpful in mentally mapping out the fretboard. You just don’t want it to limit your playing.

I call the following scale patterns “diagonal” positions. Instead of spanning four or five frets like all the CAGED shapes, these span ten frets, from the lowest note on the 6th string to the highest note on the 1st string. These patterns offer an easy way to expand the range of your pentatonic playing, see it from a new perspective, and traverse between the different CAGED boxes without stopping and starting all the time.

G Major Pentatonic, Root 6

G Major Pentatonic, Diagonal, Root 6

C Major Pentatonic, Root 5

C Major Pentatonic, Diagonal, Root 5

A Minor Pentatonic, Root 6

A Minor Pentatonic, Diagonal, Root 6

E Minor Pentatonic, Root 5

E Minor Pentatonic, Diagona, Root 5

Playing Tips

You’ll have to move your hand quite a bit as you ascend and descend these scales. (That’s one advantage of the CAGED shapes: your hand is more or less stationary while your fingers do all the work.) Try using only your first and third fingers and incorporating lots of slides. For instance, when ascending, any time you have three notes on a string, use first finger, third finger, then slide the third finger up to the third note. (You could have done the slide with your first finger. Practice that too!)

Finally, it is vital that you incorporate this new knowledge with the shapes you already know. Practice switching back and forth between the two modes of thinking while you improvise. Say to yourself, “I’m playing a diagonal shape now. Where’s the nearest CAGED shape?” And vice versa. Good luck!

Fretboards made with My VexFlow.

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  • a0adio0

    Well said — the CAGED system should provide a foundation with which to work, not a crutch to rely on and be stuck in all the time.

    Good stuff Joe.