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Guitar Tricks Blog

5 Ways to Play the Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is the first scale any beginer guitar player should learn.

It’s easy, it sounds great, and can be applied to almost any genera or song.

The pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes (‘penta’ is Greek for ‘five’) derived from the standard major scale or minor scale.

This pattern creates a ‘box’ on the fretboard which is easily movable and playable all over the neck.

The A minor pentatonic scale uses notes A, C, D, E and G.

One of the reasons for the pentatonic scale’s popularity and ease of use is that when you play the scale directly, it already sounds like music.

All of the notes within the scale are diatonic (fit within a key).

There are no ‘weird’ scale degrees or off-sounding notes.

Just play the pentatonic scale up and down and it will fit into a song or key.

It’s guaranteed to sound good.

Another way to think of the pentatonic scale is - to go to a piano and play all the black keys - that’s a pentatonic scale!

There are a few different qualities to this scale including major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, or the blues scale by adding one note.

Here are 5 different ways you can play the pentatonic scale on guitar.

Minor Pentatonic Scale

First, the minor pentatonic scale.

We start with the minor instead of major because the minor pentatonic lends towards blues and rock licks more naturally than the major.

The minor pentatonic scale a 5-note pattern built from the standard minor scale.

Where the minor scale has 7 notes, the pentatonic scale has 5.

Except this time you WON’T play the 2nd and 6th scale degrees of the minor scale.

You’ll be playing notes notes A, C, D, E and G with the scale degrees being 1, b3, 4, 5 and b7.

Here’s what a minor pentatonic scale looks like using A Minor Pentatonic:

Check out the lesson below where Gary will show you how to play an E minor pentatonic.

E minor pentatonic scale is a great first scale to learn because you can play it easily even on the open strings.


Major Pentatonic Scale

The major pentatonic scale is built from the standard major scale.

All you’ll need to do is NOT play the 4th and 7th scale degrees of the major scale and you’ll get the major pentatonic scale.

Check it out using the A major pentatonic scale:

In the video below, Anders will show you the ins and outs of the major pentatonic scale, how to build it and how to apply it to your playing.


Minor Blues Scale

The minor pentatonic acts as the base for what guitar players call the minor blues scale.

This scale uses the same pattern except there’s an additional note; the b5 or the ‘flat 5.’

You build the Minor Blues Pentatonic scale with scale degrees 1, b3, 4, b5, 5 and b7.

Here’s what an A minor blues scale looks like:

Check out this video where Mike will teach you how to play this Blues Scale step by step.


Jazz Pentatonic Scale

Using a simple A minor pentatonic pattern, you can jazz up your scales and licks by incorporating the E minor pentatonic scale within A minor.

The Em pentatonic scale works in the key of Am because there are overlapping scale degrees -

Am key: A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Em pentatonic scale: E, G, A, B, D