A pentatonic scale guitar shape* is one of the first things a beginner guitarist will learn.
Pentatonic scales consist of five notes (hence the name). Pentatonic scales are used in blues, rock and jazz guitar improvisation.
*Rather than learning the actual notes of a scale, guitarists often learn scales in ‘shapes’ that can be moved up and down the fretboard. The shapes stay the same, but the notes change depending on where the hand is positioned.
There are actually two pentatonic scales: the minor pentatonic, and the major pentatonic. This page shows you how to play both types.
On this page you’ll find out how to play pentatonic scales with any root note, using transposable fretboard diagrams. The scales are also shown in tab and notation.
Once you’ve mastered pentatonic scales, use them to improvise your own guitar solo using the backing track provided.
- Want to learn more scales? Check out our main Guitar Scales page.
- Blues guitarist? Check out our Blues Backing Tracks album.
Pentatonic Scale Guitar Introduction
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 A major pentatonic scales, the shapes and fingerings for these guitar scales are transposable.
This means that they can also be used to play pentatonic scales in ANY key.
The white notes on the diagrams and the ‘R’ letter on the tab represent the root note of the scale.
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).
Minor Pentatonic Scales For Guitar
Minor pentatonic scales are among 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.
Don’t forget to try the scales out using the backing track further down the page!
How To Use The Pentatonic Scale Shapes
In the diagrams above, the root note of the scale is shown with a white circle. 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 in 7th position (i.e. so you play the A at the 7th fret of the 4th string with your 1st (index) finger), shape 3 in 9th position or shape 5 in 2nd position. The tabs below show the A minor pentatonic scale being played with each shape.
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 they are 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 classic bluesy / jazzy sound.
- The pentatonic scale is also used for writing melodies in popular and classical music. Once you start to utilize pentatonics in your own playing, you will begin to hear them everywhere.
- By adding just one note, pentatonic scales can be changed into blues scales. Find out how to play blues scales here: Blues Scale Guitar.
Practice 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 :||
Pentatonic Scale Backing Track
Play along to the backing track on this video using a C minor pentatonic scale.
You can download this backing track here: Guitar Backing Tracks.
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.
They still sound ‘bluesy’ but also have 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.
You can play along to a backing tracks specially written for major pentatonic scales here: Guitar Scales Backing Tracks.
- We hope that you have enjoyed learning about pentatonic scales. Learn more guitar scales at our main guitar scales page.