Jazz Patterns for Plectrum Banjo: Pentatonics I

Good afternoon, adoring fans!

It appears as though I’ve hit an early stride in creating lesson materials! Yay, us!

As some of you may know, I wasn’t always the banjo player that you see before yourself today. I started off life as a guitar player, when my grandfather pulled an old, no-brand, 3/4 size guitar out of the dumpster behind his job, working at a small engine repair shop, in New York City - I wish I still had that guitar - a few years later I picked up the electric bass, and, finally, around 2014 I began studying the plectrum banjo with none other than the “banjo snob” Ronni Hinkle - that tutelage continues to this day. I’ve also had great experiences touring the country, performing in rock bands, country groups, as well as jazz, and latin ensembles.

I tell you this because many of the practice materials that I’m writing for you are sourced from transcriptions, and lessons learned on the instruments that I’ve paid the bills with for the last 10+ years, including: electric bass, upright bass, guitar, ukulele, and, of course, the banjo. I truly cannot stress enough the importance of listening, and I mean REALLY listening, to what musicians around you are playing whether it be rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic concepts that you are most attuned to.

This next set of exercises features major, and minor pentatonic exercises comes from two of my favorite musicians of all time: bass player Gary Willis, and guitarist Frank Vignola. The four exercise will show you (1) how to play a standard major, and minor pentatonic scale, (2) a Frank Vignola concept of how to “spice up” your pentatonic scales, (3) a Gary Willis lick featuring metric modulation, and (4) combining Frank’s concept with Gary Willis’ lick to create something completely unique.

Now to explain what I’m trying to do to your ears:

On the left side of the worksheet you’ll find your standard C major/minor pentatonic scales ascending, and descending. Take as long as you need to get these scales under your fingers and the sound in your ear; work out fingerings for both scales across 1, 2, 3, as well as 4-strings, and try singing along.

Once you’re comfortable with both pentatonic scale shapes, move onto “C Major/Minor Pentatonic + F#” - it’s important to note here that the F# can be substituted for, literally, any other note in the chromatic scale. What’re we’re trying to do here is add “flavor” to our lines by emphasizing a dissonance, in this case “F#.” Try adding your own dissonance to the pentatonic scale; Db, Ab, and B would all be suitable choices.

Lastly, I’d like to demonstrate one of my favorite ways to generate interest when soloing, and that is through metric modulation. This lick is “stolen” straight from Gary Willis; instead of emphasizing downbeats, you’re going to be emphasizing every three notes. The challenge here will be not playing the eighth-notes as a triplet, but as three separate, even eighth-notes. If you feel your ears, and fingers being stretched - you’re doing it right!

For extra fun, I’ve combined Frank Vignola’s concept with Gary Willis’ lick to create a true finger, and brain buster. I hope you meet the challenge head on, and conquer it!

Don’t forget - these licks don’t necessarily have to start, and stop where I ended them in the exercises, see if you can spot the pattern and take it further up, and down the neck, forwards, backwards, and in any other permutation you can think of.

Download the sheet music, and tabs for free: HERE!

As always, the information and materials are completely free of charge, however, if you’re feeling generous please feel free to send a donation via PayPal to: johnanthony.demaio@gmail.com

Thanks so much for reading, and happy picking!