What Is A Pentatonic Scale?
From a lead guitarist's point of view, the pentatonic scales are a 'must learn' set of note patterns that are used in many types of music including Rock and Blues for which they are essential for soloing and riffing.
A pentatonic scale consists of just five notes (tones), hence the name... Penta = 5 and Tonic = tone but as with the other scales, there are many different patterns on the fretboard.
The Pentatonic scales produces both major and minor tonalities, depending on the order of the scale notes used, which are the same notes in both cases.
A variation of the pentatonic scale, is the famous Blues scale, which uses the same basic pattern but adds a chromatic passing tone (a 'Blue note') in between two of the scale notes, giving it the distinctive Blues sound.
If you want to learn the Blues scales first you can get those patterns here.
Because there are only 5 notes and about the same amount of fretboard patterns, the Pentatonic scales can be learnt quite quickly, and they allow beginners to progress more quickly with their soloing skills. Once again, for practice purposes I suggest you start in the key of A.
Once learned, these patterns can be transposed for any key, although later on, for best results in the Key of E, to get a low E note you may want to alter the tuning of the strings. Don't mess around doing this until you have mastered the other keys first.
Their are both Major and minor variations of the pentatonic scale which both used extensively in Rock, Heavy Metal, Blues and Country music and other styles.
The good news is that the patterns of the Major pentatonic scale are exactly the same as the minor pentatonic, the only difference is the root or starting note begin in different places, so you only need to memorize one set of patterns and the root note positions, if you have already learned the note locations on the fretboard this will be of great assistance.
Another point worth noting about the Major pentatonic scale is that if the 4th and 7th notes are removed from the standard Major scale, what you end up with is the Major Pentatonic, cool beans huh?
It might be of some help at this point to introduce what is called the CAGED system.
What is the CAGED Guitar System?
Basically the idea is based on the relationship between common major chord and major scale shapes.
As part of the CAGED system, each scale pattern has it's own shape name, one of those five letters, C,A,G,E,D
The CAGED system is worth putting in some time to learn because it will be a great help later on.
If you learn all the notes on the fifth and sixth strings after a little practice with the CAGED system you will be able to locate and play any major chord anywhere on the neck.
Two things to note when applying the CAGED system is the letters (chord shapes) always remain in the same sequence, that is C, A, G, E, D, whatever chord your are starting from. For example if starting from E the sequence would be E, D, C, A, G, etc and if starting from A the sequence would be A,G,E,D,C, this 'same' sequence makes it very easy to remember.
The 5 Minor Pentatonic Scale Patterns
The starting or root notes of the following scales are the red dots, don't be distracted by the black scale notes above and below them you will find out how these fit in later, always start and finish scales on the root notes
The Relationship Between The Pentatonic Scales and the Major Scale
I know from learning guitar myself that with all of these scales flying around in your head, things can get very confusing very quickly, so to help you out and teach you a whole chunk of theory in one go that will really help you get your head around scales, I will illustrate the relationship between the scales all on this one page, because I don't know about you but I prefer things to be all in one place. Ready for the mystery to unfold?
Here is our trusty C Major Scale:
(remember there are no sharps or flats in this scale to confuse the issue.)
C - D - E - F - G - A - B = 7 notes (the next C is the octave)
Now let's see what happens when we remove the 4th and 7th scale degrees, which gives - C - D - E - G - A - C
Those are the notes of the C Major Pentatonic scale!
C Major Pentatonic
C - D - E - G - A
Uses the notes 1,2,3,5,6 of the Major Scale (no 4th or 7th notes)
Now let's put back the 4th and 7th and instead remove the 2nd and 6th notes, at the same time we will flatten the 3rd and 7th of the C Major scale notes by a semitone each. That's the C minor Pentatonic scale!
C minor Pentatonic
C - Eb - F - G - Bb
Uses the notes 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7 of the Major Scale (no 2nd or 6th notes) 3rd and 7th flattened by a semitone, or half step.
Now for all you would-be Bluesmen, here is the moment you have all been waiting for... lets grab that C minor Pentatonic and add a G flat note to it
C Blues Scale
C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C
The Blues Scale is the same as the Pentatonic with an added Diminished 5th note, (the Blue note) for the C Blues scale that's a G flat note.
Note: The blues scale is the only scale with 2 notes with the same name, here that's Gb and G.
Finally, do you remember the theory from the circle of fifths? Every Major scale has a relative minor scale
The Relative minor scale of C Major is A minor
(A minor uses all the same notes in a different order)
A minor Scale
A - B - C - D - E - F - G
Hopefully the mists have cleared a bit now and you can clearly see the relationship between the scales, and how many of them share the same notes, and more to the point how the scale fretboard patterns are formed from these scales by adding, removing or changing notes, once you have learned the fretboard you will find remembering the scale notes easy.
Major Pentatonic v The Major Scale
A Major pentatonic scale consists of 5 different notes.
1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6 degrees of the major scale in the same Key.
Minor Pentatonic v Major Scale
In relation to the major scale the notes of the minor pentatonic scale are :
1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7 degrees of the major scale in the same Key.
Another point to help you remember is the root note of the minor pentatonic scale is always 3 semitones below the root note of the major pentatonic scale.
The Roots or Starting Notes
Another great thing is that once again, all these 5 pentatonic scale shapes can be moved up and down the fretboard.
The root note or first note of the scale, shown as red dots in the diagram determines what key the patterns will be played in.
Thus if the root note is on the Low E string 5th fret, you are in the key A Major pentatonic, if the root note is on the Low E at the 12th fret you will be playing in E Major pentatonic. this principle applies to all 5 pentatonic shapes.
The 5 MajorPentatonic Scale Patterns
The Major Pentatonic Scale Notes in all 12 Keys:
C major pentatonic
C - D - E - G - A - C
G major pentatonic
G - A - B - D - E - G
D major pentatonic
D - E - F# - A - B - D
A major pentatonic
A - B - C# - E - F# - A
E major pentatonic
E - F# - G# - B - C# - E
B major pentatonic
B - C# - D# - F# - G# - B
F# and Gb major pentatonic scales
F# - G# - A# - C# - D# - F#
Gb - Ab - Bb - Db - Eb - Gb
Db and C# major pentatonic scales
Db - Eb - F - Ab - Bb - Db
C# - D# - E# (=F) - G# - A# - C#
Ab major pentatonic
Ab - Bb - C - Eb - F - Ab
Eb major pentatonic
Eb - F - G - Bb - C - Eb
Bb major pentatonic
Bb - C - D - F - G - Bb
F major pentatonic
F - G - A - C - D - F
The Minor Pentatonic Scale Notes in all 12 Keys:
C minor pentatonic scale
C - Eb - F - G - Bb - C
G minor pentatonic scale
G - Bb - C - D - F - G
D minor pentatonic scale
D - F - G - A - C - D
A minor pentatonic scale
A - C - D - E - G - A
E minor pentatonic scale
E - G - A - B - D - E
B Blues scale
B - D - E - F - F# - A - B
F# and Gb minor pentatonic scales
F# - A - B - C# - E - F#
Gb - A - B - Db - E - Gb
Db and C# minor pentatonic scales
Db - E - Gb - Ab - B - Db
C# - E - F# - G# - B - C#
Ab minor pentatonic scale
Ab - B - Db - Eb - Gb - Ab
Eb minor pentatonic scale
Eb - Gb - Ab - Bb - Db - Eb
Bb minor pentatonic scale
Bb - Db - Eb - F - Ab - Bb
F minor pentatonic scale
F - Ab - Bb - C - Eb - F