This lesson we'll be looking at the minor pentatonic scale on guitar -
probably the most used scale in rock music, definitely the
most used scale in blues (although there is an extended "blues scale"
which we'll look at another time).
This scale uses only five tones, hence the name pentatonic.
One of the major limitations I see guitarists put
on their playing is boxing themselves in. What I mean is, they
just play the pentatonic scale in one position and neglect the rest of
the fretboard - is this you? If so, I'll show you
how to unbox your pentatonic licks so you have the freedom to roam the
fretboard for fluid, effortless soloing (get a head start with
The basic minor pentatonic scale patterns
Although I mentioned not getting boxed in
your scales, you have to start somewhere,
well be the boxed pattern that is most commonly used by guitarists. So
those are the patterns I'll reference first.
First, let's put minor
pentatonic into context. It's essentially a five tone minor scale. We can
see it as a "stripped down" version of other seven-note minor scales.
minor pentatonic should always be an option if you're soloing in a minor key.
note is known as the root note
of the scale, and the note which defines the key in which you play the
scale. So if
the root note was positioned on G,
scale would be G minor
What makes the scale minor? The minor
3rd (also known as a flat 3rd/b3).
Now let's look at the
suggested fingering for this boxed pattern...
We can also learn a boxed
pattern with an A string
So now we're able to apply the minor pentatonic scale around
those familiar chord shapes that use E and A string root notes (e.g.
the E and A shape barre chords).
Basic soloing using minor pentatonic
As mentioned before, minor pentatonic works predominantly over minor
chords due to its minor 3rd interval. Let's have a play around with the
boxed patterns to begin with.
The idea is not just to play it in sequence, from root to root, but
rather skip around the scale and find interesting hooks and phrases.
Move up and down the scale, vertically and horizontally.
Many guitarists use the "call and response" technique, which is where
you play a phrase that sounds unresolved (e.g. it might have the
characteristics of asking a question), then you
"respond" with a more resolving phrase (e.g. a sequence that ends on
the root note or another "safe note").
That particular phrase started and ended on the root note, which is
seen as a strong "safe note", which is useful for naturally resolving a
Other safe target notes for your phrases are the minor 3rd and 5th of
the scale. Incidentally, these are referred to as "chord tones" because
they make up the minor triad (1 b3 5). Targetting chord tones helps to
keep your solos connected to the backing music. Remember that!
Another common technique is to stagger your way up or down the scale in
a run. This is where you move up and/or down a scale in a
In this first run example we're taking 3
steps (notes) forward,
1 step back, another 3
forward, 1 back, 3 more forward etc.
Remember, these are all using the boxed
pattern from earlier.
These "one note per string" vertical movements are the foundation for
playing arpeggios (another lesson
altogether!), and as we're playing minor pentatonic, you can play a
basic minor arpeggio by playing the root note (1), minor 3rd (b3) and
5th (5). Those 3 notes make up the basic minor triad and can be used to
compliment the other types of phrases we heard above.Mix it up!
We'll look at more complex sequences in another lesson. One step at a
Extended minor pentatonic scale patterns
Ironically, the easiest way to expand out of boxed scale patterns is to
boxes, either side, and link them through your knowledge of the
sequence of notes in
the scale. In the case of minor pentatonic, that's:
It's also useful to learn the intervals
between these notes so you know how to get to the next or previous note
where you are.
Let's start by simply extending that original boxed pattern either side:
It's a good idea to learn the relationship between intervals in the
scale. For example, the root
a distinct sound,
as does the 5th
When you're ready, time to put things into practise (and practice).
Use the below backing tracks to experiment with minor pentatonic (and
any other minor scale that's compatible). Some things to focus on:
String skipping and jumping around the scale
rather than just one note after the other in sequence.
the occasional run and think about which notes you start and finish the
run/phrase on (e.g. ending a phrase on the minor 3rd can sound good).
the chord changes, try and highlight this in your solo by choosing a
note that compliments the change. When the chord changes back to the
tonic ("home" chord), think about which landing notes sound good.