GBP #8 – Using the minor pentatonic scale in bass fills

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Often the first scale every bass player learns is the minor pentatonic scale. And there is a good reason for that. The minor pentatonic scale is found in every style of music from funk to jazz to blues and metal. It is an essential tool every aspiring bass player needs in his tool belt. In this article we are going to look at how we can make amazing bass fills using just the minor pentatonic scale.

Bass fills

You might have seen and heard it before, crazy 16th note bass fills that seem to come out of nowhere. But how are they constructed? It’s easier than you might think. A lot of bass fills are simply derived from the minor pentatonic scale. For those who are new to the concept, the minor scale on the fretboard of your bass would look something like this:

diagram of the minor pentatonic scale

These are two different fingerings of the same minor pentatonic scale. The red note indicates the root note of the scale. So if you would play the left shape starting on the 5th fret of the E string, it would be the A minor pentatonic. Note that the shape on the right contains the same notes. However, the note that comes after the root note is played on a different string.

In most situations I prefer to play the second shape. This has to do with the note spacing: two adjacent notes are never more than two frets apart. This allows me not only to keep a compact hand position, but it also allows me to play hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides without much effort. You will see what I mean once you scroll down and watch the video in this lesson.

The C# minor pentatonic scale

For this article I’m using a groove that is based around a C# minor chord. And for that reason we are using the C# minor pentatonic scale to create our groove and bass fills. The C# minor pentatonic scale contains the following notes:

C# – E – F# – G# – B

If you have studied your scales and your intervals; The minor pentatonic scale contains the root note, the minor third, the perfect fourth, the perfect fifth and the minor seventh. Do you want to learn more about the minor pentatonic scale? Check out my article “Using the pentatonic scales for great basslines“.

Once you know that a chord is minor, you can freely use the minor pentatonic scale when playing a bass line or bass fill.

The video

The fills

In this video I play four different fills. Note that the first and the third fill are the same fill, but played in a different octave. Notice the effect. By playing the fill an octave up, it is more noticeable and draws more attention. This can be good or bad, depending on the situation.

When playing the fill in a lower register, you have a smaller chance of getting in the way of other instruments; you are staying in your register. The notes can sound out a bit muddy though depending on the bass sound you have.

In the video I play the C# minor pentatonic scale in three different areas of the neck. I play it starting on the 4th fret of the A string, on the 9th fret of the E string and on the 11th fret of the D string. Try to find every shape. This will help you master the minor pentatonic scale all over the neck.

Playing adjacent notes or playing larger intervals

If you listen to the first three fills, you might notice that I play notes that are really close to each other. On the fourth fill however, I play a fifth up from the C# (G#) and a fifth up from the B (F#). Depending on your musical taste, you might enjoy this, or you won’t. But notice that it gives a totally different effect than playing smaller intervals. Experiment with adding larger intervals up, as well as down.

How to get the most out of this lesson

If you want to get the most out of these examples, try to combine different ideas together. Take bits of the fills you like, combine them and add your own variations to them. You can experiment with note choice, but also with rhythm and timing.

I purposely played a descending fill (going from high notes to low notes) as well as an ascending fill (going from a low note up to a higher note). When playing fills experiment with both.

Also be sure to play the fills in different keys. This will help you be able to use these fills in all kinds of different situations.

Download the transcription and more grooves

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I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any questions or suggestions.

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