What Is A Pentatonic Scale?
Pentatonic is a term used to describe any scale made up of five notes. It comes from the Greek prefix ‘pent‘, meaning ‘five (think ‘pentagon‘). A heptatonic scale has seven notes – the major scale for example.
They are sometimes called gap scales as they contain more intervals of thirds than the standard ‘tone, semitone’ order of other common scales.
Pentatonic scales are useful, especially in improvising and composing as they can be used in place of a wide variety of scales. They are also easy to sing due to their tonal simplicity and lack of dissonant scale degrees, which has lead to the pentatonic being widely used in ethnic, world and folk music.
There are two main popular pentatonic scales – the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic. We will concentrate on the latter for now, but once you have learnt this then the major pentatonic will come quickly as it is the same scale just starting from a different point.
The Minor Pentatonic Scale
Let’s start with the C minor pentatonic pattern. Here are four different fingering options starting from the E and A strings:
Learning and repeating all four positions will give you a number of waypoints to look out for when using the scale. Keep an eye on the tonic notes so you can find them quickly when you switch positions – this will bring you a step closer to knowing what scale degree you are using all the time.
The 3 E string Minor Pentatonic Patterns (1 octave)
There are three basic patterns to learn for every scale you will ever play. There is one starting on the 1st finger, one starting on the 2nd or 3rd (depending on the shape or stretch), and one starting on the 4th. Once you have these patterns under your fingers you will start to see the neck as a whole as you will covering so much more area in any one position. Move on to the A string positions below once you have mastered the E string positions.
The 3 A string Minor Pentatonic Patterns (1 octave)
Practice these patterns until you can move between them comfortably and confidently. Try to be aware of the same scale degrees in the different positions in order to make it easier for you to transpose lines and melodies later.
These six minor pentatonic shapes cover the whole fretboard, so learning them all and practising moving between them will really open up the neck for you.
The 3 E string Minor Pentatonic Patterns (Complete)
Now you know the patterns, try filling in the gaps and including the notes lower than your starting note. This will help you move around the neck by linking the scales together. You can also add in higher notes and cover more than one octave. Play around with each position and you’ll be surprised at how many ways you can play this one scale – use every note available to you and don’t forget the notation below for hints!
The 3 A string Minor Pentatonic Patterns (Complete)
C Minor Pentatonic Complete Neck Positions