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How to Play the Pentatonic Scale on Guitar • Five Patterns, Solos, Melodies, Video Guitar Lessons

Updated on October 7, 2018

The Five Box Patterns

Theory

The Pentatonic scale is simply a Major scale with 2 notes missing. These 2 notes are the 4th and 7th degrees (the two half-steps) of the Major scale.


C Major
C Major Pentatonic
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 2 3 5 6 8
C D E F G A B C
C D E G A C
Because the 4th and 7th degrees are commonly used as passing tones, omitting these notes makes the Major scale more adaptable. The Pentatonic scale simply sounds better over many chord progressions.

C Major - Am to C Major - Am Pentatonic Scale Comparison

The Pentatonic Scale verses the Major Scale

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The Major Pentatonic scale has a sweet sound,while the Minor Pentatonic scale has a darker, bluesy sound, but the fingering patterns for both scales are exactly the same. Therefore, when you learn a Major Pentatonic scale, you are also learning a Minor Pentatonic scale. The Pentatonic scale is usually the first scale that guitar players learn for improvisation purposes. Many rock and classic rock guitarists use the Pentatonic scale exclusively.


The Box Patterns

Here are the five box patterns of the G Major - E minor Pentatonic scale. The five note G Major Pentatonic is spelled: G A B D E (octave G). The five note E minor Pentatonic scale is spelled: E G A B D (octave E). The name 'box patterns' comes from their rectangle shape. When playing these patterns, try not to shift your hand. Stretch the fingers to cover the four frets. With the proper hand position, this will become easier. Place your thumb in the middle of your fret hand at the back of the neck, and keep your thumb down.


Box Pattern 1

Scale spelling: E G A B D E G A B D E G

This is most played of all the box patterns. This pattern starts on root E and has a mean, dark minor sound, perfect for blues, rock and any other genre. For most guitarists, this is the home base scale when improvising. Watch any player, and you will see them working in this pattern more than any other. Many standard licks come from this box. The king daddy of all box patterns!

Fingering
Fingering
Notes
Notes

Jimi's solo is based in Em Pentatonic at the 12th fret.

Box Pattern 2

Scale spelling: G A B D E G A B D E G A

This pattern starts on the second note of the first pattern, and is simply the same five notes repeated, in a different order. Even though these are the same notes as the first box, it has a sweet, happy sound, because of the different starting note (G). This position is the basis of country soloing. If you want to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try this alternate fingering: 2 4 1 4 1 4 1 3 2 4 2 4.


Fingering
Fingering
Notes
Notes

This is the solo from The One I Love by REM. Based entirely in Em Pentatonic, it moves back and forth between box pattern 1 and 2. The chord movement lends a different sound to the scale in the first four measures, then returns to a more normal minor pentatonic sound for the last four measures. The chords being played under a melody line can alter the sound of the scale drastically. One of the magical properties of the chord-scale relationship!

The One I Love • Solo

Solo For The One I Love • REM

The Official Video

Box Pattern 3

Scale spelling: A B D E G A B D E G A B

This pattern starts on the second note of the second pattern. Many riffs come out of the first six notes, simply because they are so easy to play. You may have to shift your hand slightly to pick up the B on the third string, fourth fret.


Fingering
Fingering
Notes
Notes

Box Pattern 4

Scale spelling: B D E G A B D E G A B D

This pattern starts on the second note of the third pattern. If you want to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try this alternate fingering: 1 4 1 4 1 3 1 3 2 4 1 4.

Fingering
Fingering
Notes
Notes

Box Pattern 5

Scale spelling: D E G A B D E G A B D E

The last pattern starts on the second note of the fourth pattern. It is very easy to visualize this scale. Once again, to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try the alternate fingering: 2 4 2 4 1 4 1 4 2 4 2 4


Fingering

Fingering
Fingering
Notes
Notes

Heart Of Gold Melody

Heart Of Gold

Em Pentatonic Along The Fretboard

Once the box patterns have been mastered, try moving through the patterns along the fretboard. The fret hand fingers are written above the notes. When ascending this extended scale, the third finger is leading, that is, most of the shifts from pattern to pattern are performed with the third finger. When descending, the first finger is leading. This is a three octave scale. When playing in position, all of the scales are two octaves.

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    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      4 years ago from Oshawa

      Thank you Jason for the feedback. Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      Jason Sams 

      4 years ago

      This is quite thorough, well-written, and substantive. I certainly appreciate your examples and attention to detail.

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      6 years ago from Oshawa

      Thanks very much for the feedback!

    • profile image

      jcamp19141@gmail.com 

      6 years ago

      Thanks very helpful and informative. Thank you so much.

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      7 years ago from Oshawa

      Thanks very much, Lucy!

    • lucybell21 profile image

      Bonny OBrien 

      7 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

      Great hub. Very imformative. Voted up.

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