Pentatonic scale guitar shapes are among the first things a beginner guitarist will learn. Pentatonic scales consist of five notes (hence the name), and can either be major or minor.
The notes in an A minor pentatonic scale are: A C D E G
The notes in an A major pentatonic scale are: A, B, C#, E, F# (Pentatonic major scales are covered further down this page).
Pentatonic Scale Guitar
Pentatonic scales, in both minor and major form, are shown below, as transposable shapes and in guitar TAB / notation. Although the TABS and notation are for A (minor and major) pentatonic scales, the shapes and fingerings for these guitar scales are transposable, and can therefore be used to play pentatonic scales in other keys. The ‘R’ on the diagrams and TAB represent the root note of the scale.
Minor Pentatonic Scales For Guitar
Minor pentatonic scales are amongst the most commonly used scales for lead guitar improvising. Usually, when guitarists refer to ‘pentatonic scales’, they are talking about minor pentatonic scales.
Minor Pentatonic Scale Guitar Diagrams
Below are the five main pentatonic scale shapes for guitar. These shapes are transposable, i.e. they can be moved up and down the guitar fretboard to play pentatonic scales in any key.
How To Use The Pentatonic Scale Shapes
In the diagrams above, the root note of the scale is marked with a white ‘R‘. If you know where the notes are on a guitar fretboard, you can use the shapes to play any minor pentatonic scale. See where the notes are on a guitar fretboard here: Guitar Notes
Example: To play an A minor pentatonic scale
Because you know that the fifth fret on the sixth string is an A, you can use shape 1 at fifth position, because the ‘R’ in the diagram is positioned over the A on the fretboard. Likewise you could play shape 4 at twelfth position because the shape has an ‘R’ on the fifth string, and the twelfth fret on the fifth string is an A. To play an A minor pentatonic using the other shapes, play shape 2 at the 7th fret, shape 3 at the 9th fret or shape 5 at the 2nd fret.
If you wished to play a B minor pentatonic, you would play the same shapes 2 frets higher than if were playing A minor scales, e.g. shape 1 at the 7th fret, shape 2 at the 9th fret, and so on.
Pentatonic Scale Tabs
Below are guitar TABs of all the A minor pentatonic scale shapes. The root note has been marked on the TABs. For each shape learn where the root notes are, so you can move up and down the fretboard using the same shapes to play other minor pentatonic scales.
How To Use Pentatonic Scales
Minor pentatonic scales are used by guitarists in virtually every genre of music. Rock, blues, metal and jazz guitarists all rely on pentatonic scales in their lead solos. Although most often used to improvise over minor chord sequences, minor pentatonic scales can also be used over chord sequences in a major key – the minor notes in the scale clash with the major chords to produce a bluesy / jazzy sound. The pentatonic scale itself is also used for writing melodies in popular and classical music. Once you start to utilise pentatonics in your own playing, you will begin to hear them everywhere.
Practise minor pentatonic scale improvisation over the following chord sequences:
Minor Key: ||: Am | F | Am | Am | Am | F | C | C :||
Major Key: ||: A | D | A | E7 :||
Guitar Scales Backing Tracks.
Our Blues Guitar Backing Tracks provide excellent practice for soloing with pentatonic scales, and have been produced so you can use them in performance, too. Featuring several popular blues styles and keys, they will provide inspiration whenever you need it! For more details and to play along with sample tracks see: Blues Backing Tracks. For more backing track downloads, visit our Guitar Command website.
Guitar Backing Track Video
Play along to the backing track on this video using a C minor pentatonic scale.
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Major Pentatonic Scales
Pentatonic Scale Guitar Diagrams:
To play A pentatonic major scales, play shape 1 in 4th position, shape 2 in 6th position, shape 3 in 9th position, shape 4 in 12th position or shape 5 in 2nd (or in 14th position).
A Pentatonic Major Scales For Guitar In TAB and Notation
How To Use Major Pentatonic Scales
Pentatonic major scales, although not as widely used as minor pentatonics, are still popular scales in guitar improvisation. Experiment using them when improvising over chord sequences in the corresponding major key. Many guitarists say this gives the solo a ‘country’ sound.
||: A | D | A | E7 :||
Experiment improvising over the above chord sequence with both A minor and A major pentatonic scales, and note the difference in sound between the two.