|

Minor pentatonic scale | Notes and positions on guitar

Be it rock or heavy metal, every guitar player uses the minor pentatonic scale.

The minor pentatonic scale is something every guitar player should master. It’s easy to learn, so it’s also perfect for getting your hands dirty as the very first scale you’ll learn.

Here, we show you the minor pentatonic shapes in all positions, talk about theory (just the part you need), and some easy exercises to master the shapes.

We’ve also shared some insights as to how you can break out of the boxes and approach the guitar fretboard as an artist, so stick around to the end!

What is a scale?

In music, there are a bunch of notes- 12 of them to be precise. These are the notes you will find in a piano, and these are the same notes you will find in a violin, so if you know them once you can spam them again and again.

The thing is- not every note (out of the 12 notes) sounds good with another note. Scales are basically just a bunch of notes that sound good (or a certain way) together.

Think of it like a group of friends – there may be hundreds of students in a University but only some of them will form a close group. Just like how students have several close-knit groups, there are also many scales in music.

The reason why you’ll need to learn scales is that a particular scale sounds and feels a certain way. The Phrygian scale sounds exotic and something out of an Egyptian documentary, the minor scale sounds sad, the major scale sounds happy, Dorian sounds bluesy, and Lydian sounds magical!

How you perceive the scale sounds does vary but there’s no denying that learning the scales offers a huge boost to your vocabulary.

What is a minor pentatonic scale?

The minor pentatonic is a five-note scale and a simple version of the regular minor scale that uses seven notes. Here’s how it sounds:

The intervals in minor pentatonic scale are:

Root, b3, 4, 5, b7

If you’re in the key of C and you want to play the C minor pentatonic scale, this is what the notes look like:

C minor pentatonic scale on guitar fretboard starting at 8th fret

Notes of C Minor pentatonic scale: C Eb F G Bb

Notes of C Minor scale: C D Eb F G Ab Bb

The minor scale sounds a bit sad and the major scale sounds like a happier cousin. The minor pentatonic scale has dug its way deep into rock music and is the most widely used scale in any musician’s toolbox.

It’s interesting how the scales have been used so well in aggressive rock solos, blues, and metal despite sounding so calm in oriental context:

The beauty of the pentatonic scale is that you can add a note or two and unlock dozens of scales and modes!

Remember!

  • Minor pentatonic scale has 5 notes – R, b3, 4. 5 and b7.
  • 2nd and 6th degrees of minor scale are omitted, so there’s no dissonance.
  • On guitar, there are 5 positions for playing the minor pentatonic.
  • You can use the same shape playing both minor and major pentatonic. For eg. you can play C major pentatonic with the same shape as A minor pentatonic.

Major pentatonic scale

The major pentatonic scale is the happier, calmer version of the minor pentatonic scale, and you can find it in many Chinese movie soundtracks and children’s songs. That’s not to say it cannot be used widely- sure you can.

Notes of C Major scale: C D E F G A B

Notes of C Major pentatonic scale: C D E G A

Theory behind the minor pentatonic scale

We’re going to take a look at the A minor pentatonic notes so you can master the theory like a pro!

Notes in A minor pentatonic scale

A – C – D – E – G

The minor pentatonic has the 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7 notes if you like thinking in terms of the major scale.

Intervals

  • A (root note)
  • C (Minor third interval)
  • D (Perfect fourth interval)
  • E (Perfect fifth interval)
  • G (Minor seventh interval)
  • A (octave)

Chords

  • A minor (i – tonic chord): A-C-E
  • C major (III – major chord): C-E-G
  • D minor (IV – sus4 chord): D-G-C
  • E minor (v – minor chord): E-G-B
  • G major (VII – major chord): G-B-D

Minor pentatonic scale positions for guitar

These scale patterns can seem very intimidating, and just like learning your intervals properly – it’s crucial that you internalize these shapes so you can use them while improvising. These ‘box’ shapes will get you up and running if you have never heard about scales till today.

Position 1, starting at fifth fret

With your index finger on the root of A (fifth fret sixth string), play the C (eighth fret sixth string) with your pinkie, then the D (fifth fret fifth string) with your index finger, then the E (seventh fret fifth string) with your ring finger, and so on.

How to play A minor pentatonic scale first position

Just follow the box shape and make sure that you’re trying to play a fret with a certain finger – you would play the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth frets with your index, middle, ring, and pinkie fingers respectively. This is to help you build speed later on when you want to learn the 3 note-per-string scale patterns.

Position 2, starting at 8th fret

position 2 A minor pentatonic scale

Play the eighth fret on the sixth string with your middle finger followed by the tenth fret on the sixth string with your pinkie finger, then the seventh fret on the fifth string with your index finger, and play the rest of the notes in the scale similarly. Also, take a look at where the roots for the scale are located – those are the coloured notes in our diagrams.

Position 3, starting at 10th fret

position 3 A minor pentatonic scale

The third position of A minor pentatonic starts on the tenth fret. This is probably the trickiest of the box shapes for you – just keep practicing on the top 3 strings and you’ll get it quickly.

Position 4, starting at 12th fret

position 4 A minor pentatonic scale

Starting on the E note on the sixth string twelfth fret, the fourth position is the sweet spot. It’s just within reach and feels super nice to slide into when you’re trying to play an awesome solo on an electric.

Position 5, starting at 3rd or 15th fret

This is the final shape for the minor pentatonic scale- though we have shown you how you would play this up on the fifteenth fret, you can also play this scale down starting at the 3rd fret.

Once you’ve practiced every single one of these shapes, you can also begin to see a pattern throughout the neck. Just pull up your favorite background in the key of A and rock out to this extended scale shape:

how to play minor pentatonic scale on entire guitar fingerboard

Minor pentatonic exercises

Exercise 1 | 3 note ascending sequence in A minor pentatonic

A minor pentatonic 3 note ascending sequence
A minor pentatonic ascending sequence

This exercise helps you memorize the ascending sequence of the minor pentatonic scale. Play the notes on fifth and eighth frets with your index and pinkie finger, and the notes on the seventh with your ring finger.

Exercise 2 | 3 note descending sequence in A minor pentatonic

A minor pentatonic 3 note descending sequence
A minor pentatonic descending sequence

It’s similar to previous – you’re just playing the notes descending. Be sure to keep the rhythm steady and follow a metronome to play the eighth notes perfectly.

Exercise 3 | A minor pentatonic hammer on

A minor pentatonic hammer on
A minor pentatonic hammer on

This hammer on drill will get you doing legato runs in no time. It’s easier to do a hammer-on on lower strings.

Exercise 4 | A minor pentatonic pull offs

A minor pentatonic pull off
A minor pentatonic pull off

Make sure every note sounds more or less equal in terms of loudness. You can combine exercise 3 and 4 together to move up and down and repeat.

Exercise 5 | sixteenth notes

A minor pentatonic sixteenth notes
A minor pentatonic sixteenth notes

This one might be a bit tricky as sixteenth notes are a bit faster than eighths. Start with a slow tempo and gradually increase it till you master the drill.

Tips For Learning The Pentatonic Scales

Most beginners start off with the A minor pentatonic as it’s pretty much the same notes as the C major pentatonic. Before you learn about these scales, you need to know what you can play a certain scale with. If a scale is called pentatonic major, you can play that with the corresponding major key. If it’s called pentatonic minor, you play that with the minor key.

learning pentatonic minor scale on guitar

For example, if you are playing in the key of C major (chords like C major, A minor, F major, G major), you play C major pentatonic (or A minor pentatonic, these two are what’s called relative scales), and if you’re playing in the key of, say, F minor, you play F minor pentatonic.

  • To find a piece of background music to play over, just search A minor backing track on YouTube. Alternatively, you can create your own progressions with an app like Chordbot.
  • Start with the pentatonic minor scale shape. Play up and down the scale, try to play some melodies, and practice hearing how the scale sounds over the chords.
  • Try to vary your rhythms – use quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, and sixteenth note variations.
  • Go all the way up in an ascending pattern, then all the way back. Doing the ascending and descending drills will also help improve your dexterity on the instrument.
  • Use a metronome! Every good musician can keep time, and if you aren’t playing with a metronome, you have more chances of messing up when playing with others.

Adding notes can make the minor pentatonic more exciting as well – check out David Wallimann’s recent video on spicing pentatonics if you’re interested!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the formula for the pentatonic minor scale?

The formula for pentatonic minor is: 1 b3 4 5 b7. For example, if the D major scale has the notes D E F# G A B C#, D pentatonic minor would be D F G A C.

What can you do with the minor pentatonic scale?

You will find minor pentatonic scales being used in rock songs and the most popular songs. You can also add a few notes to the minor pentatonic scale to turn it into the blues scale or the aeolian scale.

What are the types of pentatonic scales?

Penta just means five, and as long as you’ve got five notes on a scale, you can call it pentatonic. But the ones that are most commonly used are the pentatonic major and pentatonic minor. Both of these scales have five notes and are derived from the major and minor scales respectively.

Final Thoughts

The minor pentatonic scale is a starting point for guitarists looking to get into lead guitar and improvisation. Almost everybody starts out with the minor pentatonic – Led Zeppelin, Pantera, Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Metallica, you name it!

Guitar scales have a bad reputation around them – while they are certainly crucial to any musician’s ability to improvise and compose awesome melodies, guitarists often think of them as box shapes. Hours of practicing scales can also take lots of effort, but we don’t think it has to be boring.

It does take lots of time and practice, so we recommend taking your time with it. Also, you won’t memorize the above shapes straight away – approach a single position, try playing something within it, and think of the shapes more as a reference rather than trying to memorize all 5 of these in a day.

Once you master the pentatonic scale, you can try to incorporate more notes into your playing and get into advanced things like major/minor scales and modes to add variety to your playing.

We suggest learning the pentatonic major and the minor scales next; and the double harmonic major scale if you’re up for the challenge!

Similar Posts

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *