ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Guitar Scales Pentatonic Basics

Updated on July 14, 2023
Jon Green profile image

For many years I taught guitar and music theory in college and developed some short cuts to learning fast.

Pentatonic Scales

Pentatonic just means "5 notes", and although this scale pattern might seem to contain every note there is, it just uses the same 5 notes, arranged in 5 patterns along the length of the fretboard. I have colour-coded each of the 5 patterns to make them easier to learn, that's why the same note is sometimes shown twice in a single fret. In the diagram below, the guitar headstock is at the far left, shown by the thick line - fret numbers are given too.

To play fairly good lead guitar in country, ballad, rock and blues styles, this scale is really all you need. You can add extra notes to make it sound more like blues, but basically this will get you by.

Learn the first 3 shapes at least (red,green and blue) as they are the most useful.

The red shape is quite easy, due to the symmetry, the green shape is the most widely used in rock and country styles.

  • Pentatonic scales are easier to use than standard major and minor scales - they use mostly the same notes as major and minor scales, but with 2 notes removed - the 2 notes that can cause you problems when soloing over chords (which are the 4th and 7th in a major scale)
  • There are major pentatonic scales and minor pentatonic scales, but you can use the same scale pattern for both types, just at different fret positions.

Pentatonic scales - guitar fretboard diagram

Applying the scale patterns

The first 2 diagrams are for Am pentatonic - the root note (A) is at fret 5 on both the 1st and the 6th strings, and this is your main point of reference. Now if you play an Am chord, you can hear how it fits the chord - or have a friend play Am for you.

This scale will fit any song in the key of Am or the key of C. For instance, over all the chords of a C harmonised scale in the table below.

Chords in the key of C


Next 2 pictures (shown in red)

Assuming you have learned the pattern fairly well, you just move everything up 2 frets to change to the key of Bm, or D. All the chords in the key of D are listed in the table below, all the notes in Bm pentatonic will fit.

Move up another 2 frets, and you can play in C♯minor or E. Again, there is a list of the chords in the key of E in the table.

By now, I'm sure you're getting the idea - the relationship between all chords and scales is the same for all the different keys, and you can just move the template up and down the guitar neck, you don't have to learn different stuff for each key.

Although just the red pattern is shown here - for clarity as much as laziness! - the whole series of 5 patterns remains the same. And it stays the same for all the different keys, which is a bonus.

Chords in the key of D


Chords in the key of E


Pentatonic scales tips

When you understand the patterns OK, try sliding between notes that are 2 frets apart, hammering on in any 2-fret interval, etc. This is a map of where the notes are, but you don't want to play them in this rigid order for the best and most musical effect.

Now here is a very useful application of pentatonic scales:

  • If you shift the scale pattern down 3 frets, you get a major pentatonic pattern.
  • Moving the Am pattern down 3 Frets gives you A major pentatonic
  • You are now in the key of A major, using chords like A, D, E7
  • If you do this move in reverse, use it to change from E to Em for example by shifting up 3 frets. This is very useful in blues playing.

More on pentatonic scales

I think it's true to say this scale is the most commonly used in music all over the world, certainly in folk music styles, even in Balinese and Japanese music.

Why is it easier to use this scale for improvising?

  • Compared to a standard major scale, the relative minor pentatonic uses two notes less.
  • These are the very two notes that can tend to clash with chords from the harmonised scale.
  • An approach that I find very useful is to concentrate on the pentatonic scale pattern, and be aware of where the missing two notes could be to change to a full major scale. That way you can just add them in when needed.
  • Practical tip: when learning the melody line for a song, even for a jazz standard, start with a pentatonic framework. Use the framework, and just add extra notes as needed. The more tunes you work on, the better this approach will get, and now I find most tunes much faster to learn as a result.
  • A song like Somewhere Over The Rainbow would be a good example. Hopefully, your ear will improve in the process.

Am pentatonic, with chords


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)