Pentatonic sequences lesson by Richard Hallebeek

Pentatonic Sequences

One thing that has helped me enormous over the past 44 years of playing guitar, is the use of sequences.
It opened up new possibilities of playing that you might not have been aware of before. And it can be very inspirational to find new ideas in existing scales.
Besides this, I will tell you more about how to work on hybrid picking and what my favorite small guitar picks are.

Learn about the benefits of incorporating pentatonic sequences into your guitar playing. Find inspiration and explore new ideas with these versatile musical tools.

What are sequences?

Sequences are an ordered list of numbers. They’re very usable in your musical improvisations, although it might sound mathematical. Using sequences can lead to new ideas and phrases. Since pentatonic scales can work over almost anything, I concentrate on the minor pentatonic scale here. This is applicable for every style and every level. Pentatonic sequences are used by many pro’s. You might check out Joe Bonamassa and Scott Henderson for their incredible sequences.

Pentatonic sequences

As you can see, I’ve numbered the notes from the minor pentatonic scale from low to high on a right handed guitar fretboard.

Now, if we make some sequences, we can start the fun.

These exercises have some interesting intervals and you can also hear this in the style of players like Scott Henderson, who makes a standard blues sound more interesting with material like this.

Example 1:

  • 1-2-3-4
  • 2-3-4-5
  • 3-4-5-6
  • Etc.

The first round I play the notes legato, only picking the first note of every new string.
The 2nd round I use hybrid picking. Even when playing adjacent strings, it feel comfortable not having to move your right hand too much using the hybrid picking technique.

Example 2:

  • 1-3
  • 2-4
  • 3-5
  • 4-6

I barre my left hand index finger across the strings to play the different notes on different strings. Again, the hybrid picking helps keeping the right hand relaxed.

Example 3:

  • 1-5
  • 2-6
  • 3-7
  • Etc.

Again barring the fingers of my left hand and using hybrid picking for the right hand, makes this exercise easier to play.

Example 4:    

  • 1-3-5
  • 2-4-6
  • 3-5-7
  • 4-6-8
  • Etc.

Make sure to roll that index finger of your left hand.

Example 5:

  • 2-1
  • 4-3
  • 6-5
  • Etc.

A very simple example of pentatonic sequences moving downwards while going up, and vice versa.

Example 6:

  • 1-4-5
  • 3-6-7
  • 5-8-9
  • 7-10-11
  • Etc.

Here I move to different pentatonic box shapes. Make sure to do this for every exercise.

Hybrid Picking

If you have to play larger intervals like in these pentatonic sequences, many people use cross picking to reach over multiple strings.
In this case it might be a good idea to use hybrid picking instead of cross picking, because it gives you more opportunities to play effortlessly over multiple skipped strings.
With hybrid picking we incorporate the fingers of the picking hand to facilitate playing these large intervals.

How to hold a guitar pick for hybrid picking

How to hold a guitar picks for hybrid picking mostly is the same as for flat picking. Hold the pick between the index finger and thumb. The middle and ring fingers and (sometimes) pinky are in use to pluck the strings.
When you are used to holding the pick between thumb and middle finger, you should work on another pick holding technique. Usually your middle finger is the main finger to pluck the strings with hybrid picking.

Fingering notations

The correct way of identifying or notating these fingers for the right hand would be as shown below on the right.
In the TAB on the left I’ll show how the it may be used using the notations mentioned earlier.

  • The thumb is pulgar ℗
  • The index finger is indice (i)
  • The middle finger is medio (m)
  • The ring finger is anular (a)
  • The little finger is chico (c)

Fretboard Hand Fingerings

I took some lessons from Shawn Lane around 2003 and he showed some nice ways to barre your fingers across the strings and play the pentatonic box shapes with just two fingers. It took some time getting used to, but in the end, it feels very comfortable.

Fretboard radius

Take note that if you barre your fingers across two strings, the two notes have to sound separated from each other.
Things like fretboard radius may have impact to this. If interested, please read what ChickenPicks guitar picks wrote about this.
If you play with a distorted tone, note that bleeding tones into each other is not what you would want to hear. Especially for the stretch between the 5th and 7th fret, it feels natural to use the index and middle fingers of the left hand.


Play these pentatonic sequences going up and going down and try to make some music with it. Improvise over a backing track and add some rhythms to the sequences.

Play the examples in all pentatonic box shapes.
Here’s a slow blues rhythm track in G minor, which you could use to play with.

ChickenPicks Shredder 3.5 mm: for me the best in small guitar picks

Focus on the sound of the picked notes and the hybrid (finger) picked notes to be the same:

  • Create the same volume for picked and hybrid picked notes
  • Same shape of the note

Concentrate on your timing, don’t rush the hybrid picked note.

More twang with hybrid picking

You can also use the hybrid picked notes to get some extra twang or slap from those plucked notes, by snapping the string extra hard. In any way, be aware of the sound you’re after. To get an idea of what it sounds like, it’s good to record yourself and listen back. It can also be good to sit in front of a mirror (or a reflective computer screen that’s on stand-by) and watch your hands.

Don’t focus to much on your fretboard hand, make sure to also give your picking hand some love and attention!

I like small guitar picks for my playing; The ChickenPicks Shredder guitar pick is the ideal companion if you are into hybrid picking, or if you are looking to get into it.
This small guitar pick is heavy with a thickness of 3.5 mm. Thicker picks have thicker sound and create less pick noise.

Guitar pick size chart

Besides small guitar picks, there’s a variety of triangular shaped picks and of course, the standard 351 models.
Check the pick sizes chart for all dimensions and for all other models available.

small guitar picks

Material like no other

The material of the pick is very special. The thermosetting plastic will not wear too much and one pick should last a lifetime! The pick has a very even sound because of the beveled edges and the material used. If you use hybrid picking, you can’t distinguish the difference between a picked note and a hybrid picked note.

Good luck with the material and stay in touch!

Richard Hallebeek

Richard is a is a Dutch jazz fusion guitarist. He studied guitar at the Amsterdam Conservatory. After that he specialized in jazz and fusion jazz at Musician’s Institute (M.I.) in Los Angeles. He released several albums and he played with several legends, including Scott Henderson.

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