Guitar scales - Pentatonic scales

Using pentatonic scales

Pentatonic scales are 5- note scales. They are the easiest and most widely used scales in rock and blues guitar - it's the sound of the solo in Stairway To Heaven, for example, the intro to My Girl, and hundreds more songs throughout the styles of popular music. Mainly because there are two notes less than a standard scale, they make improvising much easier, especially for beginners.

The first example is Em pentatonic - a classic example of this scale is Wish You Were here by Pink Floyd. Next, the scale is shown along the neck, rather than across it.

  • You can use the open string to your advantage - a pull-off to the open string can speed up your playing, and make it sound flashy with very little effort - result! You could try 3,0 5,0 7,0 for example. A pull-off is when you create a second note by flicking your finger off the string rather than striking it again. In theory, this can literally double the speed with very little effort.
  • As Em is the relative minor in the key of G, you could also use it for any song in G : songs that use the chords G, C and D7.

Pentatonic scales for guitar

More pentatonic scales

Next example is Am pentatonic, probably the most common rock guitar scale, and then A pentatonic, which is very common in country and country rock songs. Note that the scale pattern is exactly the same, you just move it to the right place on the neck for the key you are playing in.

  • Am pentatonic can be used for any song in C, the relative major key
  • A typical chord progression would be Am, G, F, G - as in the coda to Stairway To Heaven and All along the Watchtower, which are very similar.
  • A pentatonic can be used for the key of A, or any song that uses A, D and E7. Generally any country song will use a major pentatonic, and any blues song will use a minor pentatonic. It's partly what gives the style its identity.
  • From this you can see that any major and minor pentatonic scales are just 3 frets away from each other, up or down the neck. From A major to A minor is a shift up the neck of 3 frets. This rule works for any key.
  • This box pattern is one of five linked patterns that cover the whole neck of the guitar for each key - more info in my other hub on lead guitar. Learning this pattern first is a good idea, and then you can build on it.

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Comments 3 comments

velvet53 profile image

velvet53 4 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

This is very interesting and helpful to me.


Jon Green profile image

Jon Green 4 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK Author

Thanks velvet - next step is learning the five box patterns. You don't need to know all of them from memory though.


velvet53 profile image

velvet53 4 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

I'll just work with the simple stuff for now.

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