Understanding Pentatonic Guitar Scales

In this article we take a quick look at two of the most widespread and important pentatonic guitar scales. It is essential that you learn to master them. But before we look at them…what the heck is a pentatonic scale anyway? Simply put, pentatonic scales are five-note scales. Anytime a scale has five notes it can conveniently be called a pentatonic scale. Pretty simple huh? Let's now take a look at what I feel are the two most common ones…

 The Major Pentatonic Scale

The Major Pentatonic scale is an incredibly useful scale that is used in many styles of guitar playing. It has the following scale degrees…

1 2 3 5 6

So, what exactly does the above formula tell us? It tells us what we need to do to the major scale, in order to create the major pentatonic scale. Let's take a look at an example to make this clear…

In order to work out the notes of the E Major Pentatonic scale, we would do the following…

Step 1: Write out the notes and scale degrees of the E Major scale…

Doing this would give us this…

E Major Scale Table

Step 2: Remove the 4 and 7 from the E Major scale….

Because the formula of the Major Pentatonic scale doesn't contain a 4 or 7, these need to be removed. Removing the 4 and 7 from the E Major scale would give us…

E Major Pentatonic Scale Table

These are the scale degrees and notes of the E Major Pentatonic scale.

ACTION STEPS: Please do the following…

  • Memorize the notes names and scales degrees of the E Major Pentatonic Scale.
  • Memorize the following scale fingering for E Major Pentatonic shown below…

E Major Pentatonic Scale Fingering

 

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

This is another really important pentatonic guitar scale. In my opinion, ALL improvising guitarists need to learn this one. Yup…it's THAT important! Here are the scale degrees that make up the Minor Pentatonic scale…

1 b3 4 5 b7

As an example, let's work out the notes of the E Minor Penatonic scale

Step 1: Write out the notes and scale degrees of the E Major scale…

E Major Scale Table

Step 2: Remove the 2 and 6 from the E Major scale…

We have to remove these scale degrees because the formula of the Minor Pentatonic scale doesn't have a 2 or 6. Removing the 2 and 6 gives us the following…

E Major Scale Missing 2 and 6

Step 3: Flatten the 3 and 7 of the E Major scale. (In other words, lower the 3 and 7 by one semi-tone)…

We do this because the formula of the Minor Pentatonic scale has a b3 and b7.

Flattening these two notes gives us…

E Minor Pentatonic Scale Table

These are the notes and scale degrees of the E Minor Pentatonic scale.

ACTION STEPS: Now that you know how to work out the notes of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale, please do the following two things…

  • Memorize both the note names and scale degrees of the E Minor Pentatonic scale.
  • Memorize the useful fingering for E Minor Pentatonic that is shown below…

E Minor Pentatonic Scale Fingering

 

That's all for now. Have fun, and practice hard!


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