Lesson 9: Pentatonic Scales - Part 1

Lesson Contents:

Okay, let's move on to something more fun - the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale, in my mind, is perhaps the most important scale because it forms the foundation of blues, jazz, and rock-n-roll music. This scale forms the basis of what most great musicians draw upon. It is essential to one's musical vocabulary. Period.

By the way: If you haven't read my lessons on intervals, please do so. You will need to understand "intervallic" terminology to get the most out of this lesson. By the way, is there anyone out there who knows how to spell the word "intervallic"? Or is it "intervalic"? Hmmm...

The Chemical Composition of the Minor Pentatonic Scale

A pentatonic scale consists of 5 notes and these 5 notes can be looked at in many different ways, but for now, let us interpret these notes as a minor pentatonic scale. More specifically, let us look at the 5 notes of the A minor pentatonic scale.

The notes are: A, C, D, E, G, A and the following diagram shows the intervallic relationship between the adjacent notes of the scale.

A Minor Pentatonic on one StringAs you can see from the diagram, the distance between the first two notes is a minor 3rd followed by a major second, another major second, a minor third, and finally, a major 2nd.

A more useful analysis of these notes is to compare each note in the scale to the root note. Remember, music theory is a language of comparisons. This language enables us to identify and master sound characteristics (intervals.)

In short, music theory is a map for sound. The better you know your way around the map, the better you know music and the better you can communicate musical ideas to other educated musicians with and without your instrument. So here we go:

    A is the root.
    C is a minor 3rd above A, we call it the flat 3rd.
    D is a perfect 4th above A, we call it the 4th.
    E is a perfect 5th above A, we call it the 5th.
    G is a minor 7th above A, we call it the flat 7.

Here is a table to make things more visually clear:

Note Function: R b3 4 5 b7 R
Notes in the A Minor
Pentatonic Scale:

Now let me show you the most practical and most widely used scale fingering for the minor pentatonic scale. Millions of guitar solos have been played using this pattern. (It's mark is on a many Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and B.B. King records for instance. Hell, it's on every rock-n-roll record known to man.) It is a guitarist's best friend for it is well suited to the guitar's tuning. That is, the tuning makes the fingerings for all of the pentatonic patterns very natural and easy to play. Many cool, amazing and beautiful melodies can be played using this scale. It should be the sharpest tool in your toolbox if it is not already. (You're a guitar player for Christ's sake!) Master it and you will soon be wooing women (or men if that is your preference) and turning heads at parties. Not that this should be your primary motivation for learning this scale, but let me just say that I am certain this scale has improved my sex life.

So without further ado:

The A Minor Pentatonic Scale - Root on the 6th String

Please Note: Use the first note of the pattern (the root note on the low E string) as the "frame of reference" note. For instance, if you want to play a G minor pentatonic scale, start this pattern at the 3rd fret. If you want to play a Bm pent., start at the 7th fret and so on.

A Final Note: Here is the same minor pentatonic pattern again, however, the first diagram shows "note names" instead of fingerings while the other diagram shows "scale degree numbers."

Am Pent. Note Names           Am Pent. Scale Degrees

Proceed to Lesson 10 or go back to the main menu.