The Minor Pentatonic Scale
A pentatonic scale has five notes and the name is a derived from the prefix ‘penta’ which means five. A major scale has seven notes and is therefore a heptatonic scale.
There are two types of pentatonic scale – major and minor. We will be focussing on the minor pentatonic today.
C Minor Pentatonic
This scale can be played starting on the third fret of the A string.
C Eb F G Bb C
You will mainly use the first, third and fourth fingers, but could get away with only the first and fourth. Playing the scale like this will be a good exercise for strengthening your little finger as it requires more strength to play lower down the neck.
Play this through a few times until you memorise the shape, then try moving it around the neck. As with the other scales, we can practice this one by taking the shape up one fret after every repetition.
Building The Pentatonic Minor
You may have noticed that the pentatonic looks like a stripped down natural minor scale. Basically, it is.
In previous lessons, we looked at how scales are built and how they relate to the major scale.
In numerical term, the natural minor scale is:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
The pentatonic minor scale is the same as this but minus the second and sixth.
1 b3 4 5 b7 8
By stripping away some of the more emotive and characteristic notes of the natural minor scale, we are left with a more ‘to the point’ scale. This simplifies the pentatonic whilst still giving it a minor edge. The natural minor scale has a tendency to sound sad and moody but the pentatonic is a way of including these tones without overpowering the feel of the music.
The simplicity of the pentatonic has led to it becoming one of the most popular scales used today. Being able to apply this scale in context will enable you to improvise and create riffs in loads of musical styles including pop, rock, country and blues.
The Pentatonic In Context
This riff has a typical pop/rock feel and is very reminiscent of some Paul McCartney riffs from The Beatles. It is based on the C minor pentatonic scale and uses octaves, hammer-ons and pull-offs.