On this page you’ll find a complete guide to learning and using pentatonic scales on guitar. From the basic pentatonic scale guitar fretboard pattern to improvising using minor pentatonic scales all over the guitar neck; once you’ve been through this guide you’ll be a pentatonic scale expert!
Let’s get started…
What you’ll learn on this page
- The basic pentatonic scale guitar pattern.
- Four more pentatonic scale patterns.
- Why learning more than one scale pattern is a good idea.
- Differences between minor and major pentatonic scales
- What pentatonic scales are & why they're so important.
- You'll also be able to solo over a backing track using pentatonic scales.
- Pentatonic Scale Guitar Backing Track
- Pentatonic minor vs pentatonic major scales
- Basic Pentatonic Scale Guitar Pattern
- Another 4 Pentatonic Scale Patterns
- Why learn more than one pattern for each scale?
- Joining Pentatonic Scale Patterns
- What is a pentatonic scale & why is it so important?
Pentatonic Scale Guitar Backing Track
Once you’ve learned the pentatonic scale patterns on this page, put your new-found knowledge to use with this backing track. It's in C minor, so use C pentatonic minor scale for your improvisations.
Pentatonic Scale Guitar: Introduction
The pentatonic scale is one of the most commonly-used scales in rock, jazz and pop music. Guitarists use it in riffs, song melody lines and lead guitar improvisation.
Pentatonic minor vs pentatonic major scales
When most guitarists talk about the pentatonic scale they’re referring to the pentatonic minor scale. There's also a pentatonic major scale, which is another widely used guitar scale. You can find out more about the pentatonic major scale here: Pentatonic Major Scale.
(Luckily, you can actually use the same pentatonic minor scale patterns shown on this page to play pentatonic major scales; it’s just a case of where on the fretboard they’re positioned. Compare the pentatonic minor patterns on this page with the major patterns on our major pentatonic scale page.)
For the rest of this page, whenever we refer to pentatonic scales, we’ll be talking about pentatonic minor scales (unless specified).
Basic Pentatonic Guitar Pattern
The pentatonic scale guitar pattern shown below is one of the first scales a beginner electric guitarist should learn.
The fingering shown in the diagram above can be used to play a pentatonic minor scale in any key. Position it at the 8th fret to play a 2-octave C pentatonic minor scale, as shown in the TAB below. (At the 8th fret the green tonic notes will be positioned over 'C' notes on the fretboard.)
2-Octave C Pentatonic Minor 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 Pentatonic Minor Scale TAB (Up & Down)
Here’s the same pentatonic scale pattern being used to play a G pentatonic minor scale:
Another 4 Pentatonic Scale Patterns
In the diagram below the first pentatonic scale pattern is shown together with four more patterns. We'll take a closer look at each of the new patterns below.
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 pentatonic scale.
The basic pentatonic minor 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.
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.
Pentatonic Scale Pattern 2
Play this pattern at the 10th position (i.e. position your hand so that the index finger is at the 10th fret) for a C pentatonic scale:
Pentatonic Scale Pattern 3
Play in 12th position for a C pentatonic scale:
Pentatonic Scale Pattern 4
Play in 3rd position for a C pentatonic scale, as shown in the tab below.
Pentatonic Scale Pattern 5
Play in 5th position for a C 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 pentatonic scale pattern (pattern 1) and were improvising over a chord progression in C, then you’d be limited to playing in 8th position (i.e. with your index finger positioned at the 8th fret.)
If you also knew pentatonic scale pattern no. 4, then you could also improvise using a C pentatonic scale at the 3rd fret.
Joining Multiple Pentatonic Scale Guitar Patterns
When playing, 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 Pentatonic Scale Using Multiple Patterns
Experiment linking each of the five pentatonic scale patterns with its neighboring patterns to build up your own extended lines.
What is a pentatonic scale & why is it so important?
Strictly speaking, a pentatonic scale is any scale with 5 notes. The most common pentatonic scale is the pentatonic minor scale, the scale that we’ve been discussing throughout this page.
There are other pentatonic scales (including the pentatonic major scale), but as we’ve found, when most guitarists talk about the pentatonic scale, they mean the pentatonic minor scale.
The pentatonic minor scale comprises the following notes:
- Tonic note
- Minor 3rd
- Perfect 4th
- Perfect 5th
- Minor 7th
Its scale spelling is: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7
With a tonic note of C, the notes in a pentatonic minor scale are:
- Tonic note = C
- Minor 3rd = Eb
- Perfect 4th = F
- Perfect 5th = G
- Minor 7th = Bb
The pentatonic minor scale is particularly important to guitarists because it is used in guitar solos, riffs and melodies in a wide range of musical styles. Whether you’re playing blues, jazz, metal or pop, if you use a pentatonic scale when soloing, it will usually sound good.
Pentatonic scales are also widely used in classical music and folk, and have appeared independently in music all over the world.
There must be something about the sound of a pentatonic scale which is innately pleasing to the human ear.
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: