Improvising With Knowledge, Lesson 2

The Major Pentatonic Scale. How do you play it? How do you place it? How do you practice it? How do you apply it to a solo?

Ultimate Guitar
Hey guitarists! This is Greg Studley, author of "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge" and "Speed, Accuracy and Technique for Guitar." This is Lesson 2 of Improvising With Knowledge on Ultimate Guitar.

In case you missed Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 1, we covered the Minor Pentatonic Scale Shape E1, notes across the E-string, moving the Min Pent E1 shape across the neck, and soloing over a minor chord.

Improvising with knowledge: Lesson 2

In this lesson, I will show the fundamental scale needed for soloing over major chords - the major pentatonic scale. Here is a summary of the lesson, but you can also just watch the video and play along with the scrolling TAB for more in-depth descriptions and playing exercises.

Here is the Minor Pentatonic Scale Shape E1 (discussed in Lesson 1). All notes are labeled as "O" except the roots, which are labeled as "R." The ideal fingering is listed above the diagram.

Min Pent E1

1 2 3 4
Here is the Major Pentatonic Scale Shape E4 ("E" because the lowest root is on the E-string and "4" because it is played with the 4th finger).

Maj Pent E4

1 2 3 4
Notice that the finger pattern is identical for these two scale shapes. Only the location of the roots have changed. This is because every minor pentatonic scale is also a major pentatonic scale, in a different key (and every major pentatonic is also a minor pentatonic, in a different key). When a minor pentatonic scale is located at the same location as a major pentatonic scale, and is therefore using the same exact notes, they are called relative pentatonic scales. The video below will show how this works with D major and B minor, both in 7th position on the guitar neck.

For placement of both the major and minor pentatonic scale to any note, you will need to know the notes across the E-string, including those that are flat and sharp. A note that is made flat will move one fret lower, and have a lower sound. A note that is made sharp will move one fret higher, and have a higher sound. The accompanying video will give a solid exercise to understand all of these notes.

When you have a solid understanding of these notes, you will be able to practice your scales in one of the best possible ways - using the Circle of Fifths. The Circle of Fifths includes all 12 possible keys, but puts them in an order that will force you to "jump" around the neck, rather than just play the scales in sequential order up or down the neck. The video will show how to use this amazing tool in your practice sessions. This is the ideal way to practice your scales at this point!

Finally, if you understand the major pentatonic scale and its placement on the neck, try and solo over a major chord. If you started the lesson with no knowledge of how to do this, I have a feeling you can now attempt what was once impossible!

The following video contains all of the different exercises listed above, with scrolling TAB so you can play along. You can also download PDF versions of the exercises and play with free jam tracks at

YouTube preview picture

About the author:
Greg Studley, author of "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge" and "Speed, Accuracy and Technique for Guitar."

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