The pentatonic scale is something you cannot ignore.
I mean, you can if you want…but, I highly recommend that you spend some time learning it.
I’ve covered pentatonic scales on guitar before, but I figured I can always go a little deeper on a topic.
In this pentatonic scale guitar lesson, I’ll cover the following concepts:
- What is a Pentatonic Scale
- Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales
- How to Use them
If you like this lesson — or any of my other lessons — I want you to check out Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. I’m starting a guitar-learning revolution, and I want you to be a part of it. Go ahead and request an invite to join here, and I’ll make sure there’s room for you and that you’re a good fit!
Pentatonic Scale Overview
Let’s think back to your geometry class…or, a passing recollection of U.S. government architecture!
The root word “penta” in pentatonic or pentagon means five.
That means the pentatonic scale has five notes. The five notes within the pentatonic scale on guitar are derived from the major scale. Compared to the pentatonic scale, the major scale has seven notes.
There are two main types of pentatonic scales: the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale. Both of these scales are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of genres.
For the beginning of this lesson, let’s just focus on the C major pentatonic scale.
To figure out how the C major pentatonic scale is built, we first need to understand the notes in the C major scale:
- C D E F G A B C
There are no accidentals in the C scale. As a result, there are no accidentals in the major pentatonic scale either.
To turn the major scale into a pentatonic scale, we need to remove the 4th and 7th scale degrees — F and B. Now, we have a five-note scale. Here are the notes in the C major pentatonic scale
- C D E G A
As you practice this major pentatonic scale, try to think about the shape of the scale. Notice the pattern that your fingers make.
We can think about pentatonic scales as patterns. When you understand a pattern, you can apply the pattern to different parts of the fretboard.
Alternative C Major Pentatonic Shape
Another way to play a pentatonic scale is to start on a different scale degree.
But, what do I mean by that?
Simply put, there’s no hard-set rule that says we have to start on a C note when we’re playing a C pentatonic scale. For example, we can start on the second note of the scale instead: the D.
Fortunately, you can apply this same concept to every note in the C major pentatonic scale. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but I’ll let you figure out the different patterns and shapes.
Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your concept of pentatonic scales won’t be solidified overnight! Make sure to take some time to integrate pentatonics into your daily practice routine.
(If you need help building that practice routine, you NEED to check out my advice here!)
Major vs. Minor Pentatonic Scales
Up until now, we have been working within the C major pentatonic scale…
But what about the minor pentatonic scale? Isn’t that the same as the blues scale?
Don’t worry, I’ll answer both of these questions in due time. For now, let’s just acknowledge one thing: you know the major pentatonic scale shape.
Building off of that, we can go down to the relative minor key. To do that, we move down three frets to the 6th scale degree. For C major, that means we move down to A.
For the A minor pentatonic scale you’ll play the following notes:
- A C D E G
Notice that these are the same notes as the C major pentatonic scale, but starting in a different place! That’s the beauty of relative major and minor keys!
You can use the same shape you learned the C major pentatonic scale, but there is also a different shape for the A minor version.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale
The A minor pentatonic scale has a slightly different shape from the C major version. While you can use both of these shapes interchangeably, you want to emphasize root notes to give the scales either major or minor feels.
- Place your index finger, 5th fret of the low E string.
- Next, play the 8th fret, low E string, with your pinky.
- From there, index finger, 5th fret, A string.
- Ring finger, 7th fret, A string.
- Now move to the D string, index finger, 5th fret.
- 7th fret, ring finger, D string.
- 5th fret, index finger, G string.
- 7th fret, ring finger, G string.
- 5th fret, index finger, B string.
- 8th fret, pinky finger, B string.
- 5th fret, index finger, high E string
Another way you can think about this scale is just through the frets, like so…
- Low E: 5, 8
- A: 5, 7
- D: 5, 7
- G: 5, 7
- B: 5, 8
- High E: 5
As you become more familiar with these scale shapes, continue to practice them until they become second nature. Pentatonic scales are the bread and butter of a guitarist’s solo. Practice accordingly!
How to Play Pentatonic Scales in Solos
There’s really no better way to discover how pentatonic scales work than experimentation.
If you can’t sit in on a blues jam or ask some guitar friends to let you try soloing, try playing along with a jam track.
A jam track is a recorded version of a song that doesn’t have a lead guitar in it. Here’s a backing track I made for you that’s an A minor blues!
This backing track is four measures of an A chord, two measures of a D chord, two measures of an A chord, then one measure each of E, D, and A. It is a very simple, stripped-down blues backing track.
Make sure to practice the A minor pentatonic scale and the C major pentatonic scale over the backing track. It will take a while to get used to playing with a backing track, but you can take your time with it.
Also, just as a quick reminder, don’t forget to check out Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. I’ve helped thousands of guitarists transform their playing — are you ready to join the challenge? Click here to request an invite and learn more!