Preliminary ear training experiences:
1. If keyboards are available have the students noodle on the black notes, perhaps one on the bass and one on the treble side of the keyboard. If Orff instruments are available set them up by removing the half steps B and F for the C/Am keys or C and F for the G/Em keys.
2. Sing Amazing Grace and other familiar songs written in the pentatonic mode
3. Listen to the music of Buddy Guy or BB King or any number of blues guitar players.
Have students play by ear using “call and response” playing and singing the notes on a single string at a time. Leader plays two or three notes and class responds on same notes. The repertoire or chord progressions you wish them to learn should dictate what key you teach. Take a lesson or two with the local rock guitar teacher. Your knowledge of music will give you a leg up even if you can’t play the scale right away. Here are some examples of how I teach the scale.
1. Root position pentatonic using open strings: Teach the class how to noodle on open E (1st string) and third fret G. Use an Em chord accompaniment, short G or G7 chord accompaniment, or 6th string bass note rhythm. Expand to string 2 and play the same pattern using open B and third fret D. This key (G/Em) is great if you want to integrate beginning chords (G, C, D7 and Em, Am) with beginning improvisation.
2. Closed pentatonic scale using no open strings: I teach all ages the Am/C pentatonic in 5th position. Again, teach one string at a time starting on the 1st string. 1st finger on 5th fret and 4th finger on the 8th fret. Do call and response, echo, noodle. Follow this with the second string same finger positions and third string 1st finger on 5 and 3rd finger on 7. This is all you need to get a great improvisation going, although playing the entire pattern is a good exercise. Accompaniment can be A blues played on chords or just the bass line on open strings. Many blues tunes are in A and “Watch and Learn” has lots of jam tracks in A, Am and C.
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