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Home > Scales > Pentatonic Scales

Different Pentatonic Scales for Guitar

Most guitarists quickly become familiar with the elementary major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales. But there are many different pentatonic scales you can learn to harmonise with more specific chord types.

As you probably already know, pentatonic simply refers to a scale with five tones. On guitar, those five tones can theoretically be any from the twelve tone chromatic scale. This gives us a huge list of possible scales we can build to accent certain chord tones. This lesson will cover some of the most usable and interesting variations.

So why use pentatonic scales?

Think of pentatonic scales as the skeleton of larger scales. For example, major pentatonic can be seen as a stripped down version of the major/Ionian scale, Mixolydian scale and other major scales.

Minor pentatonic can be seen as a stripped down version of natural minor, Dorian and other minor scales.

By combining pentatonics with fuller, seven note scale phrases, you instantly give your solos more variation and, because most pentatonic scale patterns use just two notes per string, you can inject quick runs that sound less "linear" and make use of the most important notes. Think of pentatonic scales as half way between using arpeggios and full scales.

Major pentatonic scales

All major scales contain the root (1), major 3rd (3) and 5th (5), as these intervals make up the major triad - the foundation of all major chords. Most of the time, good old major pentatonic will be our choice of "stripped down" major scale...

major pentatonic scale

But there are different major chord types whereby a slight modification of the above scale would harmonise more effectively. Let's have a look.

Dominant Pentatonic Scale

Use over: dominant 7th chords (1 3 5 b7) because of its flat 7th (b7) interval.

Use with: Mixolydian scale. It's also typically used in blues progressions along side the minor/major pentatonic and blues scales.

Backing track:  Dominant 7th chord

Dominant pentatonic scale

Major 7th Pentatonic Scale

Use over: major 7th chords (1 3 5 7) because of its major 7th (7) interval.

Use with: Ionian/major scale. By cutting out the 4 and 6 from the major scale, we get a more direct major 7th sound. Also works well along side the Lydian scale.

Backing track:  Major 7th chord

Major 7th pentatonic scale

Dominant #4 Pentatonic Scale

Use over: dominant 7th (1 3 5 b7) and dominant 7th sharp 11th (1 3 b7 #11) chords.

Use with: Mixolydian and Lydian Dominant scales.

Backing track:  Dominant 7th chord  /  Dominant 7th #11

Dominant #4 pentatonic scale

Major #4 Pentatonic Scale

Use over: major 7th (1 3 5 7) and major 7th sharp 11th (1 3 5 7 #11) chords.

Use with: Ionian/major and Lydian scales. As there is no 7th in this scale you can also use it over dominant 7th chords, but the above dominant #4 scale is perhaps more suited for those chords.

Backing track:  Major 7th chord  /  Major 7th #11

Major #4 pentatonic scale

Altered Pentatonic Scale

Use over: dominant 7th (1 3 5 b7) and dominant 7th flat 9th (1 3 5 b7 b9) chords.

Use with: Phrygian Dominant or Mixolydian. The minor 2nd (b2) interval gives the dominant chord more tension - great when used over the V chord in minor key progressions.

Backing track:  Dominant 7th chord  /  Dominant 7th b9

Altered Pentatonic Scale

Learn how to use these scales fluidly and musically across the entire fretboard by developing 5 essential skills. Click here to learn more

Minor pentatonic scales

All minor scales contain the root (1), minor 3rd (b3) and 5th (5), as these intervals make up the minor triad - the foundation of all minor chords. The most common pentatonic choice for minor chords is... minor pentatonic!

minor pentatonic scale

But as with major, there are pentatonic scales better suited to certain minor chord types, based on the intervals being used.

Minor Major 7th Pentatonic Scale

Use over: minor triads (1 b3 5) and minor major 7th (1 b3 5 7) chords.

Use with: Harmonic and melodic minor scales. Both these scales are characterised by their use of the major 7th (7). The major 7th gives the minor sound more tension.

Backing track:  minor major 7th chord

minor major 7th pentatonic scale

Minor 6th Pentatonic Scale

Use over: minor triads (1 b3 5) and minor 6th (1 b3 5 6) chords.

Use with: Melodic minor and Dorian scales. Both these minor scales use the major 6th (6).

Minor 6th pentatonic scale

Tip: try mixing different pentatonic scales by ascending using one scale and descending using another. The more variation the better.

Minor #4 Pentatonic Scale

Use over: minor triads (1 b3 5) and half diminished (1 b3 b5 b7) chords.

Use with: Natural minor, Dorian and other minor scales that use a b7. Use the #4 as a passing tone. That means don't emphasise/hold it too long over minor chords, rather use it as part of a larger phrase.

Backing track:  half diminished chord  /  minor 7th chord

Minor #4 pentatonic scale

Altered Pentatonic Scales

Some scales do not use a major or minor 3rd, which means they're more suited for playing over root-5th power chords or suspended chords (1 4 5 or 1 2 5). They're not really suitable for playing over progressions.

Egyptian Scale

Use over: suspended triads (1 4 5 or 1 2 5) and power chords (1 5).

Backing track:  7th suspended 4th chord

Egyptian scale

Japanese Scale

Use over: suspended 4th triads (1 4 5), suspended 4th flat 9th chords (1 4 5 b9) and power chords (1 5).

Japanese Scale

Remember to mix these pentatonic scales with fuller scales and arpeggios. That's the key to dynamic and varied soloing. Pentatonic scales give you a convenient "skeleton" for larger soloing phrases.

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