What is a pentatonic scale on guitar? On this page we take a look at the two main pentatonic scales used in guitar playing: the pentatonic minor and pentatonic major scales. We’ll find out how they’re constructed and how both can be used in your own guitar playing.
Guitar TAB and patterns for both scales have been provided, so you’ll be able to learn and use the scales in your own playing.
Let’s get started…
Related Articles on Guitar Command
- What is Guitar TAB?
- Guitar Scales
- Pentatonic Minor Scale
- Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar
- Download a printable guitar scales chart
What is a pentatonic scale on guitar? A Definition
Whereas the term ‘pentatonic scale’ can be used to refer to any 5-note scale, in guitar playing it generally means either one of two scales: the pentatonic minor or the pentatonic major.
In the majority of cases ‘pentatonic scale’ on guitar refers to the pentatonic minor scale.
Guitarists use pentatonic scales when improvising lead solos. Pentatonic scales are also commonly used in guitar riffs and basslines. It’s not just guitarists who use these scales; they also form the basis of countless vocal melodies.
We’ll look at both the minor and major variants of the pentatonic scale below.
- You can find out about another type of pentatonic scale on this page: Hirajoshi Scale
Pentatonic Minor Scale On Guitar
The pentatonic minor scale is a scale most guitarists encounter early-on in their playing careers. It’s easy to learn and falls naturally under the fingers.
Guitarists usually learn scales in order to use them while improvising lead solos. The pentatonic minor scale sounds good over rock and blues chord progressions, and is probably the scale most often used in guitar solos.
The pentatonic minor scale is a simple, almost ‘primal’ scale that is very natural to sing and play. Because of this it appears in chants and folk melodies the world over.
In terms of the guitar, as well as being used in guitar solos, it’s also commonly used in riffs and other guitar-based melodies, as well as in basslines.
The pentatonic minor scale, like all pentatonic scales, comprises 5 notes per octave. As well as the tonic note (i.e. the ‘C’ note in a C pentatonic minor), it contains a minor 3rd (which gives the scale its minor tonality), a perfect 4th, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th.
With a tonic note of C this gives you: C, Eb, F, G, Bb. Play this scale using the TAB below:
1-Octave C Pentatonic Minor Scale Guitar TAB:
1-Octave A Pentatonic Minor Scale Guitar TAB
With a tonic note of A the notes of a pentatonic minor scale are: A, C, D, E, G. You can play this scale using the TAB below:
Pentatonic Minor Scale Guitar Basic Pattern
Guitarists often learn scales as patterns. A guitar scale pattern is a diagram that represents the guitar neck. The circles represent the notes of the scale, with the tonic notes often being a different color (in this case, green).
The scale pattern below represents a pentatonic minor scale.
- You can find out more about scale patterns (and experiment with a number of different scales) on this page: Guitar Scale Patterns
The scale pattern pictured above can be moved up and down the guitar neck in order to play a pentatonic minor scale with any tonic note.
The TAB below shows this pattern being used to play a 2-octave G pentatonic minor scale:
2-Octave G Pentatonic Minor Scale TAB Using The Basic Pentatonic Minor Scale Pattern
(In the following TAB the basic pentatonic pattern is played at the 3rd fret.)
- You can see more ways of playing pentatonic minor scales here: Pentatonic Scale Guitar
Pentatonic Major Scale On Guitar
Although the pentatonic minor is probably the better-known and more frequently-used of the two pentatonic scales, the major pentatonic is nevertheless a common scale on the guitar.
Having major tonality, it has a ‘happier’ sound than its minor counterpart. It is often used in country music, and provides the basis of many pop and rock melodies.
In addition to the tonic note, a major pentatonic scale consists of a major 2nd, major third, perfect 5th and major 6th.
Therefore, with a tonic note of C, the notes in the scale would be: C, D, E, G, A. Play the scale using the TAB below:
1-octave C major pentatonic scale in guitar TAB:
1-octave A major pentatonic scale in guitar TAB:
With a tonic note of A the notes of a pentatonic minor scale are: A, B, C#, E, F#. You can hear how this scale sounds by playing the TAB below:
Pentatonic Major Scale Guitar Basic Pattern
The following scale pattern can be used to play the major pentatonic scale on guitar.
- You can see more ways of playing a major pentatonic scale on guitar here: Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar
2-Octave G Major Pentatonic Scale TAB Using The Basic Major Pentatonic Minor Scale Pattern
(In the above TAB the basic major pentatonic pattern is played in 2nd position, with the first note being the G at the 3rd fret of the 6th string.)
What Is A Pentatonic Scale On Guitar? Conclusion.
Although any 5-note scale is, strictly speaking, a pentatonic scale, guitarists mainly use the term to refer to either the minor or major pentatonic scales. Of the two, the minor scale is more widely-used.
The minor pentatonic scale is used as the basis of guitar solos, riffs and melody lines. It is one of the most widely-used guitar scales.
Discover more scales and use them in your guitar playing: Guitar Scales Book
Play along to backing tracks specially recorded to help you learn scales: Guitar Scales Backing Tracks
Modes are scales derived from other scales. Find out more here: Modal Scales, or download our Modal Scale Backing Tracks.