Talking Technique: Efficient Practice Hacks #5: Mnemonics – Part 2

More memory tools for bass players! This is part two in my mini series on Bass Mnemonics. Mnemonic – hard to say the word – but endlessly useful! You can take a look at part 1. Here is more… and a time-limited bonus for you at the end!


Song beginnings are a great way to remember intervals. Maybe you have heard that “My Bonnie is over the Ocean” is the major sixth, or that the Simpsons theme outlines a tritone. Here’s a great list for all intervals in song beginnings in various styles. It works, because by associating the (abstract) interval with the known musical context of the song, and an emotion that goes with it, you make it more impressionable to the mind. Anything that is associated with strong emotions is particularly memorable to the mind.

Another favorite trick for hearing minor seconds versus major seconds:

  • If it sounds like the beginning of a major scale, it’s major.
  • If it sounds like the end of a major scale, it is minor.

Once you have realized how this works, you will likely always remember it.

Pentatonic Scales:

Once I overheard a guitarist talk about a “box pattern.” That inspired me to provide the five pentatonic shapes on the fretboard with fun little monikers. There are of course five different ways to finger a pentatonic scale – each starting from a different note of said pentatonic scale (five notes, five shapes, penta=5!). And with pentatonics you get two notes per string – so, they are just little boxes, and with a bit of imagination you arrive at (for graphic go here):

The Hexagon – major pentatonic root on the E string
The Hexagon

The Boot (long shaft, then the “sole” on the G string) – starts with the second note of the scale, major root is on the D string.
The Boot

Big Box/Little Box – starting on the third note of the scale. Root is on the A string.
Big Box/Little Box

Little Box/Big Box fits that like a puzzle piece, of course, starting with the fifth of the scale, and sporting the root on the A string.
Little Box/Big Box

The Upside Down Boot (upside down as seen from your view when looking on the fretboard from above) starts with the sixth (that is also the root of the minor of course!). The major roots are on the E and G strings.
The Upside Down Boot

Since these shapes do not necessarily start with the root, the ears may trick us into an unintended key. Therefore it helps also to memorize where the root of the scale is in each pattern. I mark out the root with a square.

A lot of players use pentatonics “sorta/kinda” correctly. Don’t be that person and learn them properly, distinguishing between the major and minor ones and knowing them all across the board. It really does pay off and is not hard at all – there are just five shapes and – thanks to mnemonics – they are easy to remember!

A quick tip: in addition to knowing the shapes forwards and backwards, also practice each of these shapes starting from the major root, then go all the way up (in that shape, no going out of position for the purpose of getting the shapes down!), then all the way to the lowest note and back up to the root. Do that with the minor roots as well – the shapes will stay the same, just the note these shapes relate to or refer to changes! Some patterns contain the root in more than one octave, so pick one of them and go for it.

Having the shapes in your mind’s eye creates something to hang on to. What kind of boot are you visualizing? Make it a good one! Remember Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein; the more outrageous, weird, or saucy you make the image the better the mnemonic will work!

For an infographic sporting the five major pentatonic shapes with fingerings and demonstration videos for each of these shapes, please go here.

To go much deeper with pentatonics, I recommend my Pentatonic Playground Course. Use the coupon code GIMMEFIVE until 3-31-17 for a 10% discount! Enjoy!

Austrian-gone-Californian Ariane Cap is a bassist, educator, blogger and author. In her book Music Theory for the Bass Player and corresponding 20-week online course, she teaches music theory, bass technique, bass line creation and fretboard fitness in a systematic, practical and experiential way. She just released a brand new course on ear training for the bass player: Ear Confidence - 6 Paths to Fearless Ears. Contact her via her blog or website.

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