Mastering the Pentatonic Scale, Part 1: The Scale

In this series, you will learn about the pentatonic scale, where it comes from and its shapes and positions.

Mastering the Pentatonic Scale, Part 1: The Scale
2

The Major Pentatonic Scale

As a bass player, the pentatonic scale is your best friend. A lot of the best bass lines, riffs, and melodic ideas come from the pentatonic scale. Googling "iconic bass lines" will give you lists of songs based on pentatonic bass lines, such as:
  • "Money" by Pink Floyd
  • "My Girl" by The Temptations (the bass line is just a run up the major pentatonic scale)
  • "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
  • "Higher Ground" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (original by Stevie Wonder)
  • "Come Together" by The Beatles
  • "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
  • "Give It Away" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • "Chameleon" by Herbie Hancock
  • "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen
  • "Good Times" by Chic (covered by Sugar Hill Gang)
  • "Roundabout" by Yes
...and the list goes on and on. So what is the pentatonic scale? Penta- means "five" and -tonic refers to tones, so it's a five note scale. It consists of using only five specific notes from the major scale, which has seven notes. The major pentatonic scale uses notes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 from the major scale.

For example:

In G major you have G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#. Notes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 would be G, A, B, D, and E. So if in this case we don't play C or F#, we're playing the major pentatonic scale. This is how you play that:


Note: we're starting with the major pentatonic because it's the foundation of this sound. We will soon get to the minor pentatonic, which is the most widely used pentatonic.

So, first we have the G major scale for reference. It starts on G on the 3rd fret on the E string, and it ends on the 5th fret on the D string because that note is G an octave above the root. We then have the G major pentatonic. Notice that this one continues onto the G string. We could end it on G on the 5th fret like we did with the major scale. But for practical purposes, we're also including A and B on the G string. This way we have more notes to chose from in this position. Another way to play this is to play all the notes on the same string, which looks like this:


Here we're only staying within an octave to keep from going up to much on the same string. But it sounds the same as playing the previous "On the Same Position" exercise up to the 5th fret on the D string.

As always, you can work with any of these exercises transposing them up or down, so as to start getting comfortable with these shapes anywhere on the fretboard.

I'm sure by now you're already hearing familiar sounds or songs popping up. Next lesson we will explore more pentatonic sounds and shapes, including the minor pentatonic. Until then, play around with these!

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