Pentatonic Scales


What are Pentatonic Scales?

The pentatonic scale is one of the most commonly used scales used in music. The pentatonic scale is used both for soloing, and for basing song riffs around. Guitarists with an interest in learning to play lead guitar must learn their pentatonic scales.

A pentatonic scale consists of just five notes. This differs from many "traditional" scales, which often have seven (or more) notes. The fewer number of notes in the pentatonic scale can be helpful to the beginner guitarist - the scale omits some of the "trouble" notes found in traditional major and minor scales that can end up sounding wrong if not used properly.

Major vs. Minor Pentatonic Scale

One of the beauties of the pentatonic scale on guitar is that the major and minor versions of the scale have the same shape, they're just played in different locations on the fretboard. This can be tricky to understand at first, but will become clear with practice.

In order to learn the minor pentatonic scale patterns all over the guitar fretboard, we must first learn the scale on one string.

pentatonic scale single string

Start by picking a fret on the sixth string of your guitar - let's try the fifth fret (the note "A"). Play that note. This corresponds to the first note on the bottom left of the accompanying diagram. Then, slide your finger up three frets, and play that note. Then, move up two frets, and play that note. And, then move up two frets again, and play that note. Now move up three frets, and play that note. Finally, move up two frets, and play that note. This last note should be the octave of the first note you played. If you counted correctly, you should be at the 17th fret of your guitar. Once you've done this, try playing back down the fretboard, in reverse order, until you arrive back at the fifth fret. Keep doing this until you can play the scale pattern by memory.

Congratulations... you've just learned the A minor pentatonic scale. Strum an A minor chord... it should sound like it "fits" the scale you just played. Now, try playing the scale again, except this time, when you get to the 17th fret, try playing up the scale one note higher. Since the first and last notes of the pentatonic scale are the same note (an octave up), you can just begin repeating the pattern to play further up the string. So, in this case, the next note of the scale would be up three frets, or all the way up to the 20th fret. The note after that would be at the 22nd fret.

You can use this pattern to play the minor pentatonic scale anywhere on the guitar fretboard. If you started the scale pattern on the third fret of the sixth string, it would be the G minor pentatonic scale, since you started the pattern on the note G. If you started the scale on the third fret of the fifth string (the note "C"), you'd be playing the C minor pentatonic scale.

Learning the major pentatonic scale is easy once you've learned the minor pentatonic scale - the two scales share all the same notes! The major pentatonic scale uses the exact same pattern as the minor pentatonic scale, it simply starts on the second note of the pattern.

Start by playing the fifth fret of the sixth string (the note "A"). Play that note. Now, we're going to use the pattern we just learned for the minor pentatonic scale, except in this case, we'll start on the second note from the pattern. So, slide your finger up the string two frets to the seventh fret, and play that note. Now, slide up two frets, and play that note. Slide up three frets, and play that note. Then, slide up two frets, and play that note (you'll note that we're now at the end of the diagram above). Slide up three final frets, and play that note. You should be at the 17th fret (the note "A"). Now, play the scale back down the fretboard, until you arrive again at the fifth fret. You've just played an A major pentatonic scale. Strum an A major chord - it should sound like it "fits" with the scale you just played.

You should spend time playing both the major and minor pentatonic scales. Try strumming an A minor chord, then playing the A minor pentatonic scale up the sixth string. Then, play an A major chord, and follow it with the A major pentatonic scale.

Pentatonic Scales Continued......