The pentatonic scale is perhaps the most played scale in rock and roll history. Guitar players such as Chuck Berry, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Slash have made the pentatonic minor a garage band staple. Blues guitarists have made the pentatonic famous. They have added some leading tones into the scale in order to make a ‘blues scale’ that I will discuss in another article.
Pentatonic means literally Five tones. The scale is based on five tones within the minor scale. The numeric sequence of the scale is: Root, b 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, Root.
Based on this progression, lets take a look at the A minor pentatonic scale:
Root – A
flat 3rd – C
fifth – E
seventh – G
The scale pattern shown in the graphic is a pentatonic minor pattern. The lowest guitar string (Low E) is at the bottom and the highest guitar string (High E) is at the top. Starting on the fifth fret, low E string the guitarist can now play the A minor pentatonic scale by following this pattern.
The pentatonic scale work very good with the standard I,IV,V chord progression.. Try playing an A minor pentatonic scale over a C, F, G progression. If you want to try something a little more jazzy, try playing the A minor pentatonic over a C6, A minor 7th, F, G7th progression. Classic bluegrass is to play an E minor pentatonic scale over a G,C,D7 (could also play D) progression.
It is very easy to transfer from a major or minor scale into a pentatonic minor. For instance if you are playing an A minor scale, by simply not playing some notes, B and F, you transfer right into the A minor pentatonic. If you are playing a C major scale, simply drop into an A minor pentatonic scale. It will sound great.
Remember when practicing your scale to say the note name out loud. It is important that you learn the notes and the intervals of the scale you are playing, not just the visual scale pattern. This is a common mistake many guitarists (including me) make. Learning the scale pattern is an easy quick visual way to memorize scales, but it does not teach you the theory behind it.
If you want to quickly play any scale in any position, you have to learn the fretboard, the notes and the intervals in the scales. This also helps if you want to learn to play another instrument where the pattern system does not work.