Practicing Pentatonic Scales
There are several different ways you can practice your Pentatonic scales in order to get them into your playing as quickly as possible, as well as break out of that "scalar" sound when you do use them.
Begin by playing them starting on each note of the scale, as if it were the root. This is like practicing Major scales in modes. Do this through the complete range of your instrument, as many octaves as your chosen instrument will allow. Start using quarter notes, going very slowly both up and down. Then go to eights, triplets, sixteenth notes, groups of five, six and seven per beat up to thirty second notes. This will help you not only memorize the scales, but also develop speed and fluidity.
Try playing sequences up the scales next. For instance, play notes 1, 2 and 3, then 2, 3 and 4, then 3, 4 and 5, continuing in this manner as far as your instrument allows, then turning around and reversing the process. You can do this with four notes at a time, or any other number you want to try. Or you can try variations, such as 1, 2, 3, and 1, 2, 3, 4 and 2, 3, 4, 5, and 3 as far as your instrument allows. Vary the rhythms on these also to get even more out of them. Make up as many different sequences like this that you can think of. This may also give you some stock "licks" that you know work and like the sound of to get you started soloing with the scale.
The next step would be to break out of the scalar pattern and use more intervallic patters to play up the scale. Notice that if you play every other note you start with a major third, then a perfect fourth, as are the rest of the intervals going up this way, until you start with the root again. You can then try bigger leaps between notes once you feel comfortable with this. The object here is to break out of the scalar pattern and play more angular lines. This will also help you to get comfortable with intervallic leaps on the instrument, which is more of a problem on some instruments than others.
Try applying some of the improvisational techniques we went over in past articles. For instance, try all of the above using rhythmic or melodic motifs. The more different ways that you can find to play all of these exercises, the more comfortable you will be with the scales. Then you will be able to put them into your improvising in a much more musical manner than if you were to merely memorize the scale fingerings.
As with all of your practice, the end result is to be musical. It is not how many scales you know, but how you use what you have to play good solid melodic lines. Playing the right note in the right place is worth a lot more than playing a lot of notes very quickly, but with absolutely no thought as to how what is being played relates to the music. Really listen as you play any type of scale and see how it sounds, what kind of a mood it can create, and then use it in an appropriate manner. This applies to every type of technique that you learn, and will serve you well as you paint your musical picture.