On this page you’ll find a complete guide to playing the major pentatonic scale on guitar. We start with a basic major pentatonic scale guitar pattern, then introduce additional fretboard patterns that will allow you to play major pentatonic scales all over the guitar neck. Tab / notation is also provided.
There’s also a backing track over which you can improvise solos using pentatonic major scales.
Let’s get started…
What you’ll learn
- The basic major pentatonic scale guitar pattern.
- Four more major pentatonic scale fretboard patterns.
- Why learning more than one scale pattern is beneficial.
- How the major pentatonic scale is constructed.
- When to use the major pentatonic scale
- You’ll also be able to solo over a backing track using the major pentatonic scale.
- Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar Backing Track
- About The Major Pentatonic Scale
- Basic Major Pentatonic Guitar Pattern
- 2-Octave C Major Pentatonic Scale TAB (Up & Down)
- 2-Octave G Major Pentatonic Scale TAB (Up & Down)
- All Major Pentatonic Scale Patterns
- Why learn more than one pattern for each scale?
- Joining Multiple Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar Patterns
- 3 Octave Major Pentatonic Scale Using Multiple Patterns
- Notes In A Major Pentatonic Scale
- When To Use A Major Pentatonic Scale
- More Guitar Scale Pages At Guitar Command
Play this scale in popular keys:
Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar Backing Track
Once you’ve learned the major pentatonic scale patterns on this page, put your new-found knowledge to use with this backing track. It’s in G, so improvise using the G major pentatonic scale. (You could also throw in some G pentatonic minor or blues scale licks; when playing blues you can often mix major pentatonic, minor pentatonic and blues scales.)
About The Major Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic scales are scales with five notes. There are many different types of pentatonic scale and they can be heard in music from all over the world.
The two most commonly-used pentatonic scales in rock and pop music are the pentatonic minor and the pentatonic major / major pentatonic scale. The pentatonic minor is particularly common, being near-ubiquitous in rock, blues and pop music.
When guitarists talk about the ‘pentatonic scale’ they’re usually referring to the pentatonic minor scale. This page is about the slightly less well-known major pentatonic scale (which is also known as the pentatonic major scale).
- You’ll find scale patterns, tabs, and information on the pentatonic minor here: Pentatonic Minor Scale
Although not quite as common as its minor equivalent, the major pentatonic scale is still a popular scale, and is often used in rock, jazz and pop music. It has a cheerful, bright sound, and sounds good in upbeat blues, country and folk songs.
Basic Major Pentatonic Guitar Pattern
Get to know the sound of the major pentatonic scale by playing the pattern below. Further down the page you’ll find four additional pentatonic major patterns and tabs.
The fingering shown in the diagram above can be used to play a major pentatonic scale in any key. Play it in 7th position (i.e. with your hand positioned so that your index finger is ready to play notes at the 7th fret) to play a 2-octave C major pentatonic scale, as shown in the TAB below. (At this position the green tonic notes will be positioned over ‘C’ notes on the fretboard.)
2-Octave C Major Pentatonic Scale TAB (Up & Down)
Note: the scale diagram above includes an additional note that extends the scale above the second octave. Scale diagrams often extend the scales either above or below the tonic notes. If you just want to play the scale, start and stop on the green tonic notes.
- You can find out how to read guitar tab here: How To Read TAB
2-Octave G Major Pentatonic Scale TAB (Up & Down)
Here’s the same major pentatonic scale pattern being used to play a G major pentatonic scale:
All Major Pentatonic Scale Patterns
The diagram below shows the first major pentatonic scale pattern together with four more patterns. We’ll take a closer look at each of the new patterns below.
The basic major pentatonic scale pattern (pattern 1) can be extended up and down the guitar fretboard using the additional scale patterns. You’ll see how to join the patterns up in order to create longer lines further down the page.
A tab example has been provided for each of the new patterns. The tab shows how the pattern can be used to play either a 1 octave or a 2 octave C major pentatonic scale. (Patterns 1 & 5 span 2 octaves, the others 1 octave.)
Remember that the scale patterns may contain notes that extend the scale, either upwards or downwards. If you just want to play a single octave, play from a green note to the next green note, as shown in the tabs below.
Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern 2
Play this pattern at the 9th position (i.e. position your hand so that the index finger is at the 9th fret) for a C major pentatonic scale:
Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern 3
Play in 12th position for a C major pentatonic scale:
Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern 4
Major Pentatonic scale pattern 4
Play in 2nd position for a C major pentatonic scale, as shown in the tab below. You could also play this pattern in 14th position, where it would be an octave higher.
Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern 5
Play in 5th position for a C major pentatonic scale:
Why learn more than one pattern for each scale?
Guitarists learn more than one scale pattern for each scale so that they can play the scale in different octaves and at different positions on the guitar neck.
For example, if you only knew the basic major pentatonic scale pattern (pattern 1) and were improvising over a chord progression in C, then you’d be limited to playing in 7th position (i.e. with your index finger positioned over the 7th fret.)
If you also knew major pentatonic scale pattern no. 3, then you could also improvise using a C major pentatonic scale at the 12th fret. This would give you access to higher notes.
Joining Multiple Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar Patterns
When playing with scales, you can extend your lines by linking together adjacent scale patterns. Below you’ll find a TAB example of this, with suggested fingerings.
3 Octave Major Pentatonic Scale Using Multiple Patterns
Experiment linking each of the five major pentatonic scale patterns with its neighboring patterns to build up your own extended lines.
Notes In The Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic scale comprises the following notes:
- Tonic note
- Major 2nd
- Major 3rd
- Perfect 5th
- Major 6th
Its scale spelling is: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
Therefore, the notes in a C major pentatonic scale are:
- Tonic note = C
- Major 2nd = D
- Major 3rd = E
- Perfect 5th = G
- Major 6th = A
… and the notes in G major pentatonic scale are:
- Tonic note = G
- Major 2nd = A
- Major 3rd = B
- Perfect 5th = D
- Major 6th = E
When To Use Major Pentatonic Scales
As well as containing the major third that gives it its major tonality, the major pentatonic scale also contains the relatively innocuous major 2nd and major 6th tones.
This means that a major pentatonic scale will often sound good if used over a major, major 7th, or dominant 7th chord with the same root.
Try it now by playing a C major, C major 7 or C7 chord, then improvising a short melody using a C major pentatonic scale with the sound of the chord fresh in your mind.
There will always be exceptions, but in general if you’re improvising over a major chord then you can often get away with using the major pentatonic scale with the same tonic note as the chord’s root note (i.e. a C major pentatonic scale over a C major chord).
Play this scale in popular keys:
Find out more about guitar scales at Guitar Command
Visit the following pages on Guitar Command to find out more about guitar scales and how to use them in your own playing: