Pentatonic Scales - Tips and Tricks


Pentatonic Scales - Tips and Tricks

The pentatonic scales are the most important scales to learn for evolving guitar steps. The pentatonic scales are used in all styles of music, especially pop & rock. They serve particularly as a special gift for amateur guitarists with less experience. They are very easy to remember and apply to almost any music style with a little time to practice.

What are they?

Any scale of five notes per octave can be regarded as a pentatonic, hence its name (Penta). However, we usually use the term referring to the pentatonic scales derived from the circle of fifths (lesson soon), i.e., starting at the root note of the scale and playing consecutive Thirds of each note. For example:

C + 5th = G
G + 5th = D
D + 5th = A
A + 5th = E

Re-ordering these notes we get the C Major pentatonic : CDEGA

For most guitarists and bassists, using the pentatonic scale is intuitive because the 5th works well as a complement to any note of a scale or chord progression. A minor pentatonic, also derives from the circle of 5th s, taking the note root and "walking backwards", for example:

Pentatonic Scales - Tips and Tricks

note whose 5th is C = F
note whose 5th is F = A#
note whose 5th is A# = D#
note whose 5th is D# = G#

Re-ordering these notes we get the pentatonic on C minor: C D# F G# A#

Why are they special?

They are special because they work! Try a higher pentatonic progression mainly using a major chord or otherwise. In any case if one does not seem quite right, try another. They are easy to remember in chord progressions because the note arrangement of the major scale is equal to the smaller scale (transpose 3 semitones, or 3 indents on the guitar) This compatibility facilitates .the use to improvise . They can be a basis of the blues scale (adding the blue notes) serve as an aid to memorize the Greek modes: The pentatonic major scale notes are common to the three major Greek modes: Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian. (See lesson on the formation of Greek scales )The minor pentatonic scale notes are common to the four smaller Greek modes: Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian and locrio. Add two additional notes to a pentatonic that define the mode for any of the sounds based on the Greek modes.

How to construct a pentatonic?

Most will never be trained in pentatonic intervals. Here are the roots to help you understand it.

The C major pentatonic, formed from the root note, is: R 2 3 5 6, i.e. R + WT + WT + WT + HT For example, in the scale of C: CDEGA

WT = Whole Tone, HT = Half Tone

The minor pentatonic, formed from the root note, is: R m3 4 5 m7, i.e. R + (HT + WT) + WT + WT + HT. For example, in the scale of C: C Eb FG Bb

Layout on the fret board

This is the good part! Here are the arrangements of the notes (in relation to indented root notes): minor pentatonic & major pentatonic. The relative disposition of the notes is equal; transposed three dashes (or half-tones).

minor pentatonic scale on the fretboard

major pentatonic scale on the fretboard

Remember, one of the scales is known to color the other. To memorize it is easier to use the minor pentatonic scale because it has the greatest number of notes on the crossbar of the root note. This makes practice easier. Here is the full fretboard positions for the minor scale, memorize it and try to apply it over a set of chords. You will see how impressive the results are!

Making the best of pentatonic scales:

Check out these pages:

Greek Scales Part I (coming soon)
Part II Greek Scales (coming soon)
Tips for soloing on target scales and styles of music (coming soon)
Our tool Progression analyser can help match an underlying chord progression to a scale.