The 5 Boxes? Now What?

Yesterday I read a question on an online Facebook group about the 5 boxes which (basically) read…

“I’ve learned the 5 pentatonic boxes, now what?”

Which, sadly, is an extremely common question… so today I’m going to tackle the answer.

First, let’s look at why you learned those 5 boxes, shall we?

My guess is that someone, somewhere, told you that you needed them. And while that’s not totally untrue, it’s not totally correct either.

What you need is the pentatonic minor scale (which, with one additional note also is the minor blues scale) because it’s the quintessential sound of the blues. The “boxes” are simply one way of compartmentalizing those notes into a way we can play them and find them easily.

So, let me be clear, the 5 boxes are a guitar thing, not a music thing. If you ask a piano player to play box 1 he’ll think you’re crazy.

Are there other ways to organize and remember the pentatonic and blues scales? You bet! But the boxes tend to be pretty common. In fact, my 4 note solo pattern is simply the top part of box 2.

So what you have with the 5 boxes is 5 different ways to play the same 5 notes… no more, no less.

Do you need all 5? Certainly not at first. In fact, of all the hundreds of solos I’ve transcribed from Albert King, SRV, Clapton, and others, box 1 and the extensions (parts of boxes 2 and 5) seem to cover 80-90% of what gets used commonly.

In other words, if you aren’t making music with box 1, and maybe a little bit extra, the problem is not that you need more notes!

In fact, what you need are the other 2 legs of the soloing tripod, complete solos, and licks.

So first, I’d suggest learning a complete solo that uses nothing but box 1. And if you prefer it in a swing feel I’ve got it that way too.

And then, maybe learn a few licks from great players like Peter Green, or maybe learn one by Johnny Winter, and maybe even some Clapton.

Finally, make sure you take time to just try stuff over jam tracks. And if you need some tracks to play over, I have some great blues backing tracks you can use to try stuff out.

20 Comments

  • Terence Michael Kassman

    Reply Reply January 4, 2018

    Hey Griff
    Happy New Year to you and everyone here.
    Thank you very much I learnt alot from you.
    You’re an awesome guitarist and a very good teacher.
    God bless you

  • Robyn

    Reply Reply December 14, 2017

    gOOD TO KNOW THAT ALL BOXES ARE NOT NEEDED TO GET GOIING. THANKS GRIFF.

  • Carlos C. Martinez

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Griff, I’v learned alot from you and enjoy your lessons.I love your candidness and your ability to make it look simple . I’ve played for over 50 years .now I’m retired and you are an inspiration to me .thank you for sharing your golden nuggets .

  • Kenneth pollard

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Hey Griff you are the number one man I love work with guitar I buy every thing you own I been playing blues 30 years and gotten gold from you thanks very much I love you man. Kp

  • Darrell L.P. Fitzgerald

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Hi Griff,

    As always you are an excellent teacher of blues guitar. Have been following you for a few years and have never been disappointed! What an great and thoughtful Christmas gift you have given us all. Still working on the five boxes, but I concentrate on putting blues feelings into the notes. Like your four note blues bars. God Bless you and your family and a very Merry Christmas.

    • PAUL

      Reply Reply December 13, 2017

      WELL, WAY BACK WHEN I FIRST STARTED OUT WITH YOU GRIFF, I HAD NO BOX’S I NEW OF. THEN YOU HAD ALL 5 BOX’S ON A VIDEO BLOG. SO I PRINTED IT OOUT. YOU DID SAY TRY AND LEARN THEM, BUT TAKE ONE BOX AT A TIME. WELL, I GOT TO BOX 2 AND PLAYED THE OTHERS,BUT JUST SHINED ON THE 3-5BOX’S. I DID FIND THE NOTES I WANTED ALL OVER THE FRET BOARD WITH JUST BOX 1 AND 2. PLUS THE DORIAN SCALE. WHICH WORKS NICE IN AMONOR BLUES BOX 1.
      NOW!! DEGITIC HAS THIS NEW PEDAL. “MUSIC TRIO IIN A BOX. HAS ALONG LOOPER AND MANY AFFECTS SO YOU CAN ACCULALY MAKE YOUR OWN BAND IN THE BOX. YOU CAN LOOP A RTHYUM, LEAD BOTH INTO THE LOOPER THEN SLECT YOUR SOUNDS. HAS BASS , SLAP BASS AND IT JUST DOES EVERYTHING FOR YOU. THE YOU CAN SVAE THEM ONAN SD CARD. CHECK IT OUT AT SWEET WATER, OR GO TO MSN.COM. THEY HAVE IT ON THERE HOME PAGE. FOR GET JAM TRACKS. THIS IS THE BONE!

  • STEVEN TANNER

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Man, again you are absolutely right. I was just watching Tinsley Ellis play Kiss of Death on you tube and in this slow blues you can really see him milking the Bm and Em pentatonic scales so tastefully it is an eye opener. Tinsley uses every method taught by Griff Hamlin in this piece of guitar virtuosity!

    • Dave

      Reply Reply December 14, 2017

      Never saw this before Steven, thanks for mentioning it. Gotta like Tinsley he seems to play effortlessly.

  • Paul Wilson- white from England

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Hi Griff, as you know i love your lessons and your blog ect ect .
    I agree you don’t need to learn all the boxes to start with,but from my experience you should not attempt the boxes untill you have learned or learnt the chords that blues are based around.
    I say this because take the jam track away and your down the river with out a paddle.
    You need the major chords and a must is 7 th and 9 th chords and your playing Gary moores songs you will need the circle of 5ths and diminished chords.
    Once you have the essential chords basics then learn a lick in minor and major in the same key lets say G.
    This then opens the door to play a major lick or a run of notes over the 1 chord,then minor licks over chords 4 and 5 and then there’s the blues right there and that blew my mine when It clicked and I started to understand rhythm is the key as if you can’t feel the groove you can not solo with feel.
    I listened to some of my old recordings and I could now hear my mistakes over and over again but you have to learn some how and making mistakes and learning why you made them is the best lesson you can get.
    But having a teacher like griff is worth the wait in gold

    • Griff Hamlin

      Reply Reply December 13, 2017

      Absolutely! Chords are paramount and I certainly don’t mean to imply otherwise. This article assumes the chords are in place.

  • cowboy

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    this is an entire mini course in itself…great info and reminders in your shared links…I can’ think of anyone else that would put so much in one lesson…thanks…later.

    cowboy

  • Michael

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    I “play” for myself. Which often reflect my feelings or emotions .

  • Bill Swartwout

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Sort of a “back to basics” reminder. Good idea, as always. Thanks.

  • Tim

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    The blues pentatonic scale is just like a pallet of colors…..you still have to paint the picture.

    • Robyn

      Reply Reply December 14, 2017

      TIM. WELL SAID.

  • Terry

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    You just got to put your time in. Plain and simple. I’ve been going over them for the past 2 yrs and just keep picking up little things,runs,licks and now it’s like double or tripled all the stuff I was doing before. It’s been more of listening to what I’ve been playing and what notes or sounds I’m trying to find that keeps building on what I’ve been playing.

  • Gaz

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    I’ve learnt the 5 boxes the last few months and having a ball ,time to mix in some major notes now.

    • Michael

      Reply Reply December 13, 2017

      “Learned”. Trying to improve spelling ..one word ata time. LOL.

      • David Waterbury

        Reply Reply December 13, 2017

        “Learnt” is also correct, but much more common in British English than the American variant.

  • Mark d.

    Reply Reply December 13, 2017

    Two years ago when I started bgu you posted the same comment about srv, BB,and others who mostly stayed in box one and two. I’ve taken that to heart as I’ve not ventured past box two except to noodle a little.I agree with Griff to much info can be confusing.Can’t see the forest for the trees as they say.Griff I hope I can meet you one day to say thx! You’ve made a Huge difference in my playing ability B-)

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