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How To Play The Pentatonic Scale On Guitar • Five Patterns, Solos, Melodies, Video Guitar Lessons

Updated on December 17, 2016

The Five Box Patterns

Review by Karen: Starts at the beginning and breaks the blues down in a well articulated way. It exponentially grows from there. Doesn't keep it safe but goes for that blues-jazzy feel throughout. Not your average blues book.
Review by Karen: Starts at the beginning and breaks the blues down in a well articulated way. It exponentially grows from there. Doesn't keep it safe but goes for that blues-jazzy feel throughout. Not your average blues book.

Learning Blues Guitar

I have been teaching guitar professionally since 1992, when Don’t Fret Guitar Instruction was established. Over the years, I have taught countless students (beginners to advanced) how to play or improve their chops. Past students include four members of PROTEST THE HERO.

With this book, my goal is to relate the scales with chords and rhythms as opposed to just learning solos or licks and having no idea how to apply them. Good rhythm playing and knowledge is crucial to good soloing and vice versa. This comes through understanding the relationship between chords and scales. This book provides that important foundation.

The book is unique in the fact that each chapter is based around a different key signature and an open (contains unfretted notes), pattern of the pentatonic scale. There are five chapters covering the key signatures of E, A, D, G and C, and the five open ‘box patterns’ (scale patterns) of the pentatonic scale. Eventually all the box patterns are covered, from the open strings to the fifteenth fret.

There is no endless scale practice or useless licks to learn. Instead, each chapter begins with a chord progression, moves into various rhythm patterns derived from the chord progression, and then culminates with solos based on the scale and key covered. These solos tie in with the chord progression and rhythm patterns to form a complete lesson for each chapter.

The book is progressive. Upon completion, the student will have a solid foundation in blues guitar, and will understand the rhythm, lead connection.

The book is best studied from beginning to end, without slighting any material. All theory is explained in the simplest terms. There are fretboard diagrams for the scales, chord grids, and photos of hand positions as well as videos posted on YouTube to aid in the learning process.

It is best, but not necessary, to have a knowledge of barre and open chord shapes before beginning this course. All the chords have fretboard grids associated with them.

Good luck and have fun. Music is a celebration. Enjoy!

Lorne K. Hemmerling


The Pentatonic scale is simply a Major scale with 2 notes missing. These 2 notes are the 4th and 7th degrees of the Major scale.

C Major
C Major Pentatonic
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 2 3 5 6 8
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!


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

The Ultimate Experience
The Ultimate Experience

Surprisingly well chosen for a best-of assembled from the results of a fan poll, The Ultimate Experience brings together the major singles with a stack of majestic album tracks and career-defining live shots on a fat 20-tracker. While best used as a sampler to direct new listeners to the immortal Are You Experienced, Electric Ladyland, and so on, the record does hang together as a listen. Its blend of Hendrix-the-rocker and Jimi-the-underrated-soul-man is suggestive, painting a picture of a multifaceted genius and transcending its plainly mercenary origins. In the end, its effect--like that of all Hendrix's best records--is to remind us of a Jimi very, very much alive.


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.

Document - 25th Anniversary Edition [2 CD]
Document - 25th Anniversary Edition [2 CD]

This new edition of Document features the digitally remastered original album, plus a previously unreleased 1987 concert from R.E.M. s Work tour. The commemorative release also adds new liner notes by journalist David Daley, with the 2CD package presented in a lift-top box with four postcards.


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.


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.


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


Neil Young Journeys [Blu-ray]
Neil Young Journeys [Blu-ray]

In NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS, Young's intense performances are presented in full, along with passages from the funny and sometimes wistful ride into town. Demme and Young previously collaborated on two other documentaries, Neil Young Heart of Gold, which chronicled Young performing in Nashville, the year after he survived a brain aneurysm and Neil Young Trunk Show, which memorialized a Pennsylvania concert during Young's "Chrome Dreams II tour.


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 

      6 years ago

      Thanks very helpful and informative. Thank you so much.

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      6 years ago from Oshawa

      Thanks very much, Lucy!

    • lucybell21 profile image

      Bonny OBrien 

      6 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

      Great hub. Very imformative. Voted up.


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