Chuck Berry’s Major and Minor Pentatonic Trick

Chuck Berry’s intro to Johnny B Goode has to be the most famous piece of guitar playing in the universe. Not only did he influence an entire generation of rock and roll guitarists, you can hear elements of his playing in all the great rock guitarists since.

The lick combines major and minor elements to make for an ambiguous, interesting run. If you already know your major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales you’re ready to start using this trick in your own licks and improvising.

Here’s the opening lick slightly adapted for ukulele:

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The Scales

Pentatonic scales are made up of just five notes. Because they’re so simple they suit a huge range of music. You’ll hear them all over blues, rock, country and folk songs.

If you want a full dive into the minor pentatonic scale I go into it in my Blues Ukulele ebook. But for this example I’m just using the C major and minor pentatonic.

C Major Pentatonic

1st position

Here’s the open position of the C major pentatonic scale. It always makes me think of the My Girl riff.

2nd position

This scale shape uses exactly the same notes but slightly higher up the fretboard. Compare this scale to the lick and we’ve already got most of the notes. All we’re missing is the C-string, 3rd fret (i.e. minor third) and E-string, 6th fret (minor 7th).

C Minor Pentatonic

1st position

The minor pentatonic is all over blues and rock playing. If you’re only going to learn one scale to improvise with this would be the one.

2nd position

Moving the scale up to the second position you get this. And there are the C-string, 3rd fret and E-string, 6th fret we need for the lick.

Combined Pentatonic

Knock the two scales together and you have a scale with plenty of options. You can just got at it with this scale. But my preference is to primarily use either major or minor pentatonic then introduce notes from the other to add some colour.

1st position

2nd position

Some Examples

Descending Lick

Here’s a Chuck Berry style descending lick that uses the same ideas.

Aerosmith Style

You can hear this combination of major and minor pentatonic playing by all the rock gods (Hendrix, Clapton and Page used it regularly). Here’s a lick cribbed from Joe Perry’s solo in Walk This Way.

Combining Blues Scale and Major Pentatonic

If that isn’t enough notes you can add in a note from the blues scale. In C the only difference between the minor pentatonic and the blues scale is an F# (E-string, 2nd fret). With that you can play this BB King style lick.

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