The internet is filled with hundreds of lessons on pentatonic scales. In fact, many of them don't even provide any new information, although they may explain the same idea in a different way that the reader may understand better.

I'd like to share with you a concept that I use every time I play in minor pentatonic, but I have yet to see anything about this elsewhere. And while this info may not technically be new, as it could possibly be extrapolated out of the other lessons on pentatonic scales, I have never seen this specific idea presented.

Although I will be focusing predominantly on playing the Minor Pentatonic Scale over 3 octaves, this lesson will give you the tools you need to take your first major steps in improvising and soloing. So let's get started!

The Minor Pentatonic

I'm willing to put my money down and say that 99% of the people that read this are thoroughly familiar with something that looks like this:


This is often called Minor Pentatonic 1st Position, and if you're unaware, it spans over 2 octaves, plus an additional G note at the end (assuming we're talking about E minor). This is the same with the other 4 positions. Learning this and the other positions is a great way to get started, and you can make some fairly simple solos, fills, or improvisations with just that knowledge. But, if you're anything like me, that will get boring quite quickly and you'll want to take it to the next step.

This example is E minor pentatonic over 3 octaves. Recommended fingering below tab.

     1 3 3 1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1  3  3  1  3

Here are some things to notice about this scale. The most obvious is that this scale uses only your index and 3rd finger, making it very easy to play. The second is that this brings out a lot of 'boxes' that you can use for phrases. Allow me to point them out:




And my personal favorite:


How to practice this

For the more advanced players, getting this scale down will be no problem. If you're where I was when I learned this, you may want some help. Here are the 3 things I did when I was first learning this. These should all be done with a metronome.

1. Play the scale up and down. I'm aware that this is terribly obvious, but I mention it because I want to point out a few things regarding the fingering. This is the fingering I recommend for descending:

    3  1  3  1 1*2*1 3 1 1 3 1 3 1 1

Notice that you shift positions now with the index finger, and the middle finger has to do some work this time.

2. Play the scale, add some rhythm. Pretty simple concept, here's an example:

     1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1*2*1 3  1  3  3  1  3  1  3  1  3  3

Now it starts to sound a little musical! Pay close attention to the fingering on this one!

3. Use it to improvise! This scale is great for improvising. It's fun, even just to play along with a metronome. There are limitless possibilities for hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bent notes, etc. You can really use just about every trick in the book with this little scale here.

What you can do with this

Here's a couple licks to get you started. These will all be in the same key I've been using (E minor) so you have the option of mixing these up and stringing them together, but I STRONGLY encourage you to develop your own licks, and furthermore, don't get stuck playing the same licks over and over.



This next one bends up to a note in the blues scale. More on that in another lesson.


This one slides up to a box in the 1st position shape you should already be familiar with.


Moving from box to box is great way to keep sounding fresh. You don't necessarily want to be all over the fret board in a single phrase, but try playing a solo with the same 4 notes. It gets boring really fast. It's all about balance.

Another nice trick is to play a phrase once, and then play it again an octave higher, or a fifth higher. Like so:


You can use this same concept to harmonize 2 guitar parts, or to establish a theme melody for a song and get more miles out of that melody.

The real fun

By now, you should have a very thorough understanding of the Minor Pentatonic Scale. If you've studied the 5 2-octave shapes, and this 3 octave scale, you should have no problem playing the in Minor Pentatonic all over the neck.

Well, the next thing to do would be to start actually playing! Pentatonic scales work very well with the blues. Get on Google and look for some blues jam tracks (there are hundreds, even thousands out there for free) and start jamming away. Bring your friends over and jam with them. Improvise solos to your favorite blues or rock songs (Aerosmith works really well for this).

A quick note about key. I've dealt only with E minor for this entire lesson, but obviously an E minor scale isn't going to work over a G minor chord progression. Here's a quick tip to get into key at first. Lets say the progression is G minor. All you need to do is take the whole scale and move it up so the root note of the scale (the open E in the other examples) is the note of the key. In this case, you would move the scale up 3 frets so the root is the G note at the 3rd fret, and play it up and down from there once or twice until you're comfortable enough to get started. You'll want to try and grow out of this quickly, though, and really learn to see the scale in any key. Imagine being on stage and saying 'Before our next song, allow me to get into key. 3, 6, 8, 10... Okay!' Not exactly cool.

Final Thoughts

So that's it! I've just given you all the knowledge you need to take your first big steps toward improvising, jamming, soloing, and writing great pieces of music. All with just a simple scale.

And when I say that, I mean that you can play shows knowing nothing more than this. I know because that is how I played my first shows. And I truly hope that if you haven't played on a stage yet, you can take this knowledge and go for it, because there is no better feeling in the world!
Last edited by chrisweyers at Oct 15, 2009,
I can see why this could be advantageous. It's a good stepping stone for pushing people to learn the entire fretboard rather than just the tired old box that people seem to enjoy so much. Perhaps a few more examples are in order to bulk it out though?
Easily doable. I'll add a section of example licks to get people started.

This will be my first lesson submission to UG, so let me ask this. Should I add that section here first and have it looked at again before submitting? Or can I just submit it now with the new section added?
Last edited by chrisweyers at Oct 15, 2009,
I would suggest editing the first post to update it, then we can go over what other information might be worth adding. As soon as we think that it's as inclusive and educational as possible, it'll be more than worth submitting. As you say, there are a lot of articles on the minor pentatonic, so wouldn't you prefer to make it as good as it can possibly be?
Okay, I added a couple sections and really edited a lot more than I originally had intended. I ended up changing the scope of the lesson slightly, but I'm very happy with the results.

I intend on writing another lesson in the future further expanding on this one and bringing more ideas into the picture. I could put them in this one, but I'm starting to worry about the length of this one (I'm into short and sweet). And honestly, I could easily fill another lesson with the other stuff.
That's good. I like that you've included the notes on key and that you've added a couple of examples. Your layout at the very least is very good; you even have a quite well set introduction and conclusion.

Consider the possibility of doing multiple lessons for a bit before submitting maybe?
I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean I should write the other lessons first before submitting?
Quote by chrisweyers
I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean I should write the other lessons first before submitting?

More than, if you do decide to do more than one, you can link them into this first one to maintain readers.
Alright, I'm getting ready to submit it. Just a note for you and whoever edits it, I'm not going to be able to properly format that long example in the submission box. Particularly the fingering.
Quote by chrisweyers
Alright, I'm getting ready to submit it. Just a note for you and whoever edits it, I'm not going to be able to properly format that long example in the submission box. Particularly the fingering.

Buzz Admin 'JustLikeMe' with this information when you upload. He is a mod of this forum, so if you scroll down he'll be listed next to the active users.
Congrats, dude! That was a pretty kickass lesson, always trying to find more ways to use this scale in a unique fashion.
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