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Learn The 5 Positions of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale on the Guitar Related to CAGED Chords

Updated on July 14, 2015

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All About the Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale on the guitar, and particularly the E minor pentatonic scale is a blues and rock guitar staple. There have been so many guitar driven songs in this key that one could easily make a case for E being the starting place to learn about blues and rock soloing and songwriting.

The "Theory" (For those that have to know!)

The pentatonic scale as the name implies is a five note scale. Although there are many five note pentatonic scales out there, the most common ones are the minor pentatonic and the major pentatonic.

In the E minor pentatonic the notes are E-G-A-B-D and can be thought of primarily a subset of one of the three larger seven note minor modal scales.

  1. E Dorian: E F# G A B C# D
  2. E Aeolian: E F# G A B C D
  3. E Phrygian: E F G A B C D

In each case we are leaving out the the 2nd and 6th note. So, even though this is not specifically a lesson on how to solo over modes, this will give you the basic idea of how the pentatonic scale can work in a modal situation.

In a mode, the chords and chord combinations often include those left out 2nds and 6ths which are not the same in every mode. The solution is to use the pentatonic scale as a "blanket" scale, that one, leaves out those tricky 2nds and 6ths, and two, makes a great reference point when you are learning modes. There are also multitudes of cool pentatonic licks out there that you will eventually pick up on.

The G major pentatonic has the same notes as the E minor pentatonic as well. This is known as the "relative major" of E minor and is a subset of the three larger seven note major modal scales.

  1. G Ionian: G A B C D E F#
  2. G Lydian: G A B C# D E F
  3. G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F

In each case we are leaving out the the 4th and 7th note. So as in the case of the minor pentatonic and the minor modes, the major pentatonic works as the blanket scale for all three of the major modes.

Blues and Rock Messes With The Minor Scale Theory

Ok now someone says let's play some blues. So throw out what you just learned about the minor modes and how the minor pentatonic works there, and welcome to the foggy grey area of blues and rock guitar soloing. The confusing thing to some is that even though this scale is defined as a minor scale, it is so often played over major and dominant 7th chord progressions.

This is a subject for future writings however here is a brief list of typical situations where this versatile scale may fit.

  • Normally pretty much anything that is based around E minor. Emi-C, Emi-D, Emi-G, Emi-F, Emi-Ami as well as Emi blues.

This is not so normal in a classical sense.

  • E major situations that use I-IV-V as in blues which typically use dominant 7th chords.
  • E major situations that use E-D, E-G, E-A
  • Static vamps on E7

So basically in many blues and rock instances we superimpose the minor pentatonic scale over major chords.

Relative major (another more in depth article needed)

  • G major situations. The E minor pentatonic scale has the same notes as the G major pentatonic scale: GABDE. This means that in progressions that use G major such as G-C, G-D, G-Emi, G-Ami and G-F that this same scale can be used.

Again this is a subject that needs to be explored in more detail but really emphasizes the importance of learning how to to play this scale.

E Minor Pentatonic #1 in the E Minor Shape

E minor shape open pentatonic scale pattern #1 and associated CAGED chord E minor
E minor shape open pentatonic scale pattern #1 and associated CAGED chord E minor | Source

How to Practice the Scales

So often guitarists just learn the scales from top to bottom, 6th string to 1st and back. While you need to know the scales that way, it can't be emphasized enough how a guitarist needs to know all of their scales from root to root to know how the scale should sound.

This means in this case, start on the E and end on the E. This is how these video lessons are structured. Even thought he whole pattern is ultimately played, the scale is broken up in such a way as to emphasize the E notes.

We are also showing how the scales match the CAGED chords. More on CAGED below.

E Minor Pentatonic #2 in the D Minor Shape

D minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #2 and associated CAGED chord D minor
D minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #2 and associated CAGED chord D minor | Source

E Minor Pentatonic #3 in the C Minor Shape

C minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #3 and associated CAGED chord C minor
C minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #3 and associated CAGED chord C minor | Source

E Minor Pentatonic #4 in the A Minor Shape

Aminor shape pentatonic scale pattern #4 and associated CAGED chord E minor
Aminor shape pentatonic scale pattern #4 and associated CAGED chord E minor | Source

E Minor Pentatonic #5 in the G Minor Shape

G minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #5 and associated CAGED chord G minor
G minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #5 and associated CAGED chord G minor | Source

E Minor Pentatonic #1 in the E Minor Shape

E minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #5 and associated CAGED chord E minor
E minor shape pentatonic scale pattern #5 and associated CAGED chord E minor | Source

A Brief Intro to CAGED

CAGED refers to the open chord shapes C, A, G, E and D, and includes all of the chord qualities such as major, minor, 7th etc. When playing them as bar chords CAGED is the order they appear in. Huh? That is, if you take for example a C chord, the first way to play it is as the

  • C open followed by,
  • A shape bar or capo 3rd fret.
  • G shape bar or capo 5th fret.
  • E shape bar or capo 8th fret.
  • D shape bar or capo 10th fret.

Then it's back to the 1st shape C shape bar or capo 12th fret (pretty tight)

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    • profile image

      Ron 2 years ago

      mate i have been watching your vdieos, just started guitar, and just a quick thank you, theseefbbbf vids are brilliant for beginners, that you can put some simple chords together and just change the rythem,cheers mate

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi. nice Hub, very informative. I agree scales are necessary to improve knowledge and playing.

    • Guitar Wizard profile image
      Author

      Mark Edward Fitchett 3 years ago from Long Beach

      Thanks for letting me know. 2nd and 6th for minor. Fixed :-)

    • profile image

      Adrian 3 years ago

      In the one part you mention that the 2nd and 5th are left out and then a little later the 2nd and 6th note?