Easy Guide To The Minor Pentatonic Scale

author: Msu_Man04 date: 03/23/2009 category: for beginners
rating: 9.8 / votes: 13 
If you have gotten the basics of guitar playing down, then I'm sure you'd like to learn something about leadwork. Now, before you go off and try to learn all those fancy harmonics and modes, try to start with the simplest scale; the Pentatonic. PENTAtonic, because it is actually only made of five different notes. Easy, huh? It's very prominent in classic hard rock, bluesy rock (although the Pentatonic Blues Scale is better for that), and is great for creating simple riffs and solos. Let's start with an easy one: the E Minor Pentatonic (E G A B D). Here is the simple box form for it:
e|O|-|-|X|
B|X|-|X|-|
G|X|-|X|-|
D|X|-|O|-|
A|X|-|X|-|
E|O|-|-|X|
From left to right, that would be Open, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd frets. The circles are the root note (E). The X's are the other notes in the scale. Now, you may be thinking "Five notes? No, that's twelve!". In a way, you're right. But no; it is five notes. When you travel up the scale and hit a circle, you just go back to playing the E note again, only up one octave. Now. If you kept extending the scale (That is, raising each note up as many octaves as you can, then figuring out how to play each note on each string), it would look like this:
Open1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 etc.
e|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|
B|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|
G|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|-|
D|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|
A|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|
E|O|-|-|X|-|X|-|X|-|-|X|-|O|-|-|X|-|
As you can see, the end of the scale has the same shape as the beginning. So, you can guess that it would just repeat itself. At first, the whole thing may look confusing, but it really is not. It just takes practice (I'll tell you a good way to do so in a minute). That extended scale up there is made of five 'boxes', or sets of notes (twelve in this case) that are hooked together. Let me show you them for the minor pentatonic:
e|O|-|-|X|
B|X|-|X|-|
G|X|-|X|-|
D|X|-|O|-|
A|X|-|X|-|
E|O|-|-|X|

|-|X|-|X|
|-|X|-|O|
|X|-|X|-|
|O|-|-|X|
|X|-|-|X|
|-|X|-|X|

|-|X|-|X|-|
|-|O|-|-|X|
|X|-|-|X|-|
|-|X|-|X|-|
|-|X|-|O|-|
|-|X|-|X|-|

|X|-|-|X|
|-|X|-|X|
|X|-|O|-|
|X|-|X|-|
|O|-|-|X|
|X|-|-|X|

|-|X|-|O|
|-|X|-|X|
|O|-|-|X|
|X|-|-|X|
|-|X|-|X|
|-|X|-|O|
If you hook each of those together, from end to end, you will get that extended scale I showed you. Remember how I said I'd show you a way to practice? Well, here it is. Take that very first box, and make E the root note. Practice going up and down that scale in that position. Now move it up one fret (So that it's now the F minor pentatonic), and do the same thing. Keep moving it up the fretboard. Now, go back to E minor pentatonic. Instead of just practicing the one box, put the other box on the end of that one (so that you have the two boxes linked). Now practice going up and down it. When you start off on the first box, go up each string (playing the notes from the first box only). When you hit the high e string, switch over to the second box. Go down the scale to the low E string. Then move over to the third box, and repeat. Keep doing this until you have the whole extended scale together and practice it. It will become less confusing and more natural as you progress. Now, you may be thinking "But that's only the E scale. What about all the other letters?" Well, this isn't just for E. This works for any key. The only thing that makes it the E minor scale, is that the root note starts open on the E string. If you moved the whole thing up one fret (so that the root not was on the 1st fret on the E string), it would be the F minor pentatonic scale. Another neat little fact: That isn't just the layout for the minor pentatonic scale. That's the layout for the pentatonic scale, both minor and major. The difference is where the root note is placed. Look back up at that extended E minor pentatonic diagram. Keep it in the same place (don't move it up or down any frets). Change the root note so that instead of on the E, it's on G (E string, 3rd fret). Change all of it's octaves accordingly. That would be the G major pentatonic scale. But, so I don't confuse you, I wont discuss major pentatonics. So let's go back. Remember how I told you that the E minor pentatonic scale was made of E, G, A, B, and D? Well, surprise surprise, any of the three of those notes, as chords (open or power) will sound perfectly fine with this scale on top of it. Sure, there are other chords that could fit on top, but those are the five that definitely will. For example, an F# chord would probably sound fine, a C could too. Try out these parts of solos that are heavily based on minor pentatonic scales: Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven (A Minor Pentatonic Scale):
|------5---------------------|----8-8-8b--8p5------8-10p8--------------|
|--------8-5-----------------|-8b-------------8/10--------10-8----8h10-|
|-7b9--------7-5---7-5-------|---------------------------------10------|
|----------------7-----7-5---|-----------------------------------------|
|--------------------------8-|-----------------------------------------|
|----------------------------|-----------------------------------------|
You may ask "Why is that F note in there that is the 8th fret on the A string? I don't remember that note fitting in the scale." Well, the chord progression played under this lead work is A - G - F - F (two beats for each). When that F note is played, the F chord is being played under it. And wouldn't you think that a note, even if out of scale a little, would sound alright if the note's chord is under it? Well, it does. So that's something you should keep in mind. Remember: No scale is cemented. They are only guidelines to your own creations. ACDC - You Shook Me All Night Long (G Minor Pentatonic Scale):
e|-------------3------------------------------------------------------------|
B|---------------3--6-------------------------------------3-----------------|
G|---5b(7)ZYABLA~HUYABLAZYABLA~HUYABLA---------5b(7)--5--3------------------------3--------3--------|
D|----------------------------------5---5--3-----------------5--5-----------|
A|------------------------------------5-------5--3--------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------6--3--------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------6--6------8--8-----8--10b--8-----8-----12b--8-----8-----15--15-----|
G|---/7--------/9--------9-------------9-----9----------9-----9-------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
Both of those solos are based on Minor Pentatonics, and are generally considered as great solos (especially Stairway to Heaven). I hope that this guide has given you a basic understanding of how the minor pentatonic scale works. It was meant for beginners, not to delve deep into musical theory. Just to show the basic shape of it, and give you a decent way to practice so that it becomes more natural. Good luck, guitarists.
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