Welcome to the first blog in a series that I’m doing on the pentatonic scale. This minor pentatonic scale shape can easily be called the king of all scales. It is the most used of the five pentatonic box shapes. Name your favorite artist and they’ve used this scale shape.
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The pentatonic scale is a five note scale. For the minor pentatonic scale the notes in the scale are the Root, minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flat 7th. It’s the way that these intervals and notes lay out in this shape that makes this so useful to guitarists.
The great thing about the pentatonic scale is that every string has two notes on it. The other thing, which is related to this pattern and must be why it is undeniably the most used scale pattern in modern guitar, is that your index finger stays on the same fret all the way up and down the scale. This makes it really easy to know where all the notes are at without having to look at your guitar. Leaving your eyes open to look at the audience, your dog, a friend or the landscape.
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Here’s how to play it.
Let’s play it on the 5th fret which is in A minor. Each finger has it’s own fret. So our index finger will go onto A at the 5th fret of the thick low E string. Then each finger will lay out onto the frets. Middle finger 6th fret, ring finger 7th fret, pinky finger 8th fret. Like this:
Now you are going to go from string to string playing two notes on each string.
Practice tip: Go ahead and review the notes a few times to get it under your fingers before moving on.
Notes of the scale
Believe it or not there are only 5 notes in the scale. Each note has an interval name starting with the Root. Which is represented with a “R” below and tells you the key. Then the next note is the minor 3rd or flat 3rd. This is represented with “b3” below. There is the 4th. Represented with “p4” which is short for perfect 4th. The 5th represented with p5 below. Which is short for perfect 5th and last is the “b7” which stands for flat 7th.
Practice tip: Play with the notes to make up your own riffs, melodies or licks. Put on a drum machine and find some patterns that you like. This can be very fun and rewarding.
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You can move this scale around to different frets to change the key. This is why it’s helpful to know the notes on the thick 6th string. Remember the Root is the note that names the key. So if you play the scale starting with an open string it is in E minor. If you start at the 1st fret it is in F and so on. Here’s a diagram with the notes on the low E string and more on the musical alphabet.
Practice tip: Play the scale up and down in all 12 keys. Say the key name to yourself each time you play it to help soak it in.
The big picture
If you are new to intervals here is a graphic to show you all of the intervals in the octave and how they lay out on one string. Intervals are covered in detail in the Rock Prodigy lessons 28 and 29.
The pentatonic scale fits into five two-note-per-string patterns on the neck of the guitar. Here’s a quick way to visualize it. The pattern we did in this blog is in blue.
Things to play
Sequences are repeating patterns that you can move around the scale. Here are a few examples in A. Play these sequences up and down the scale and in all 12 keys.
Here are some licks that use this scale shape. Articulation techniques are commonly added like bends, slides, Hammer-ons and Pull-offs:
In this video I go over some of the topics above:
Here’s a great video from Musicians Institute of some of the more advanced things you can do with the pentatonic scale featuring Scott Henderson and Jude Gold.