A Guitar Lesson From Ray

Today I was introducing a student to the minor pentatonic scale. I was about to show the student the whole scale when I recalled the scene from Ray where an old piano player teaches the young Ray Charles to improvise using three notes. I remembered thinking, as I watched the movie, “Three is the perfect number to start with. Easy to remember, but varied enough to allow plenty of expression.”

I taught my student the three notes (the same three little Ray used), launched into a blues boogie-woogie rhythm, and two minutes later my student was telling me how fun and easy blues improvising was.

A year ago I introduced the minor pentatonic scale using the whole finger pattern–twelve notes–and students often stumbled and got frustrated before they caught on. Up until today, I would teach an octave–six notes–with good results. But after today, I’m convinced three notes is the perfect place to start.

I wonder if Ray would have stuck with the piano if his first lesson had been on reading music notation….

Comments 1

  1. i first teach beginning improvisers to master the 5 pentatonic patterns and/or blues scale patterns. once they get pattern 1 down… i have them move that around the neck accordingly everytime a i play a new chord behind them.

    not sure if that all makes sense, but it really knocks their socks off and helps to emphasize how use guitar players use patterns to master the fretboard and subsequently scales. not the other way around…


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