Pentatonic Scales Are The Backbone Of Playing Lead Guitar.
Naturally, I want you to learn and know the scales we’ve covered up to this point: the major and minor scales and the sevenths. Did you know that learning and using Pentatonic Scales will beef up your fretboard knowledge and skills?
I can PROMISE you that it will! And you guessed it! There is a minor pentatonic scale and a major pentatonic scale. The Rule of Thumb Is: you can play a minor pentatonic scale over a major or minor key, but a major pentatonic scale can only be played over a major key.
Where Does A Name Like Pentatonic Come From?
Pentatonic gets its name from penta, meaning five, and tonic, meaning tones. So a pentatonic scale has five notes, the five notes of a major scale, minus the second and sixth steps.
The notes of a minor pentatonic scale are found by taking the following steps, or formula, from the major scale: 1 3♭ 4 5 7♭
In the key of A, that would be: A C D E G
Think In Terms Of Boxes
The more common and more accepted way of visualizing the pentatonic scales is to think of them in terms of boxes. Being pentatonic, you can also draw the conclusion that there are five boxes!
Here is Box 1 in the key of A:
Notice on the first line of the box the designator “5fr.” – that means that that fret is fret number 5 on the neck. Now let’s go ahead and add box 2 to the neck:
This one shows the third fret as being the top fret. Regardless, the pentatonic box starts at fret 5. Box 1 encompasses everything between fret 5 and fret 8. Box 2 is everything between fret 7 and fret 10.
In this diagram Box 3 takes up fret 9 and fret 13. Then, in Box 4, fret 12 through fret 15 make up the box.
Finally, in the image below, you can see all five boxes. I have the fret ranges marked to correspond to particular boxes. Box 5 ranges from fret 14 through fret 17.
Whenever you are trying to pull together a solo when A-Minor is being played over C-Major you can play any of the notes shown. There are a couple of ways to know which minor pentatonic scale to use.
One is to see if the song is in the key of C-Major and there are two other chords that make up the song, one being A-Minor and the other being D-Major, then the A-Minor Pentatonic Scale can be employed.
Circle The Wagons, Then Circle The Fifths
The other way is simply a more direct way of doing the above. It is called using the Circle of Fifths. The Circle of Fifths is the relationship between a major scale and its relative minor.
The relative minor key signature will be identical to the key signature of its major. In other words, in this case, both C-Major and A-Minor share the same key signature.
A simple tool like the one shown below can readily point you in the right direction:
Circle of Fifths – Digging A Little Deeper
Of course, there is a little more to the Circle of Fifths and how it is and can be used. Take the root, or tonic, note of C. It is called the Circle of Fifths because when moving around the wheel clockwise, the note to the right of C is the fifth of that key’s scale. When moving from C to G, the G is the fifth of the C-Major scale.
Likewise, when moving counterclockwise around the wheel, the note to the left is the fourth of the previous note’s scale. So, when moving from C counterclockwise to F, the F is the fourth of C-Major Scale. Go ahead and prove it to yourself.
I – IV – V
Now, when someone tells you that the chord progression of a song is “I-IV-V” (one-four-five), if in the key of C, move clockwise to get the G, then move counterclockwise from C to the F. A one-four-five in the key of C would be “C-F-G.”
Do you realize how many songs are in the one-four-five progression? The vast majority of country songs. Countless rock-n-roll songs.
For our purposes right now, the wheel will help determine the relative minor key of the major key. In other words, locate the “C” in the outer band. That is the major key. Directly below it in the next inner band, is the “Am.” So A-Minor is the relative minor of C-Major.
It is also the fifth of e-Minor and the fourth of d-Minor. Are you beginning to get a grasp on how powerful a tool this little wheel is?
So, if you are playing a song in the key of C and its relative minor is A-Minor, you can use the A-Minor Pentatonic Scale to develop your leads and solos.
Before moving on, let me also point out that you can make a little spinner by cutting out an equilateral triangle (all three sides are equal). Pin it to the middle of the circle tool and each point of the triangle will point to a note. Each of the three notes will be a major third apart!
Interesting stuff, isn’t it?
The Major Pentatonic Scale
The Major Pentatonic Scale consists of steps 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. In other words, steps 4 and 7 of the major scale are omitted. Eliminating steps 4 and 7 means that there are only whole steps in the major pentatonic scale. That makes it perfect for playing against any major scale.
The first five boxes of the Major Pentatonic Scale in A
Lastly we have the full neck containing all five of the boxes for the A Major Pentatonic Scale.
It is worth noting that all pentatonic boxes are “movable.” In other words, the image above starts with Major Pentatonic Box 1 starting at fret 2. To move it into the key of C-Major Pentatonic, move the starting box up the neck (toward the higher notes) three frets so that box 1 now starts at fret 5.
I’m going to leave you with a couple of exercises that I really want you to work on. Both exercises are A-Minor Pentatonic Scales. Practice them daily. Start out slowly. Use a metronome if you have one. If you don’t have one, consider buying one. They are inexpensive and will help you with tempo tremendously!
Exercise 1: A-Minor Pentatonic Scale
Exercise 2: A-Minor Pentatonic Scale
If you get bored, move the key to B-Minor Pentatonic.
I will be putting together some more exercises for the next lesson. These exercises can be used in whole or in part to help you develop solos and will increase in complexity. I will also begin using audio and video to show you how to do the exercises.
In the meantime… Practice, Practice, Practice! Set aside at least 30 minutes every day, preferably an hour. If you do that little bit you will see your playing improve dramatically!
Then we’ll come back and tackle a couple more chord groups in the keys of F and G. And THAT, my friend, will give us what we need to play our first song! Yay!
Until next time…
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