5 Shapes of the Minor Pentatonic Scale

A short lesson on learning the 5 shapes of the minor pentatonic scale and how to use them!

Ultimate Guitar

Hello everyone!

For this lesson I'm going to share with you the method of learning the shapes of the minor pentatonic scale that I've found most effective when teaching and learning myself! There are plenty of other methods out there, that some may find more effective, but this has always proved to be the best way for me!

This image below shows diagrams of all 5 minor pentatonic shapes.

Minor Pentatonic Shapes (E Minor)

These diagrams are in E minor. The "R" shows the root note, E. The numbers in the circles tell us which degree of the Minor scale each note is. The minor pentatonic scale is made up of the 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 notes, of the natural minor scale.

Shape 1 is the "classic" pentatonic box shape. Shape 4 is the second most common pentatonic shape.

In my opinion, the best way to learn all of these shapes, is to first learn shapes 1 and 4. Once you've learnt these two shapes we can begin to look at "extending" these shapes, with Shapes 2, 3 and 5.

Once we've learnt Shape 1, we can begin to extend it with the preceding and succeeding shapes, 5 and 2. This method works well, as rather than learning an entirely new shape, we're simply adding to our existing shape.

Joining Pentatonic Shapes (A Minor Pentatonic)

The first diagram in the second image above, shows Shape 1 (white) with Shapes 5 (purple) and 2 (yellow) added to it. I would recommend adding the notes for shape 5 first and learning/memorising that, and then adding the notes for shape 2 and learning/memorising that. What makes this way so much easier is that rather than learning a new shape, you're really just memorising another "row" or "column" of notes to add to your Shape 1.

The same applies for Shape 3 (green) and Shape 4 (blue). After learning shape 4, we simply add another 'column' of notes preceding it, to form shape 3.

You can then think of shapes 5, 1, and 2 as a whole new shape, and shapes 3 and 4 as a whole new shape. And you now have ended up with only two shapes, that are easy to remember and use. Obviously, the aim is to then, join these two 'new' shapes together, and voila, you've mastered the shapes of the minor pentatonic scale.

So to summarise:
  1. Learn shape 1.
  2. Add shape 5.
  3. Add shape 2.
  4. Learn shape 4.
  5. Add shape 3.
  6. Practise as two big shapes.
  7. Conjoin the two big shapes together!

Below is a video of some licks you can practise to get an idea for how you can use the different shapes of the minor pentatonic scale!

YouTube preview picture

Hope you find this lesson interesting and helpful! :) Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice licks, very refreshing. How do you get so deliberate/precise almost Bonamassa like, in your playing? Can that be learned?
    Dom Hawthorn
    Hey, thanks for the kind comment, appreciate it! It can definitely be learned, it's all about practise, and most importantly practising slow! Any fast licks should always be practised at at least half speed if not even slower before they're played fast. That's how you develop the accuracy and precision. Hope that helps, if you have any more questions just comment back! Cheers!
    Why do you do this? First, you claim the minor pentatonic scale. There's no such thing. Just the pentatonic scale and it's inversions. 1-2-3-5-6. No minor name. Why? Because the 2-3&6 are minor. It's redundant. Next, your first box, 2nps, if you played that shape an octave higher, but not 12 frets up, like 5 frets and a string or 2 frets and two strings, the shape doesn't work anymore. Is that not a problem to you?
    Dom Hawthorn
    Hey man, the reasons for doing this should be quite apparent, these shapes provide different ways to play the minor pentatonic scale over the fretboard in different positions. You’re mistaken about there being no such thing as minor pentatonic. There are in fact several different types of pentatonic scale. The term ‘pentatonic scale’ just means five note scale, it's just that this term is commonly used to refer to the minor pentatonic scale, as this is the most popular amongst us guitarists, which can cause confusion. It’s funny, because the 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 formula you’ve mentioned is the formula for the major pentatonic scale. If we look at the minor pentatonic scale, in relation to the major scale, it’s formula is 1, b3, 4, 5, b7. For example, in the key of C, the major pentatonic scale is (1)C, (2)D, (3)E, (5)G, (6)A. and the minor pentatonic scale is (1)C, (b3)Eb, (4)F, (5)G, (b7)Bb. You should look up how the major and minor pentatonic scales are constructed and their relationship to each other. I may do a lesson on this in the future. You wouldn’t play the first box an octave higher in that way, because you’re right, it wouldn’t work and it’s not supposed to. If you wanted to play the scale in a position 5 frets up, you would simply use shape 3.. That’s the whole point of the system. There is no problem with this system, and I think you’ve greatly misunderstood some of the things you’re talking about. If there’s something you still don’t understand, feel free to drop another comment and I’ll answer as best I can
    Stop talking. You don't tell me I am wrong because I am not wrong. You are mistaken. There is 1 pentatonic scale. THE pentatonic scale. Maybe you should learn English before you go teaching guitar lessons. Read what I said more carefully otherwise don't respond.
    Dom Hawthorn
    I'm afraid you are mistaken. It appears you're talking about the relative major/minor pentatonic scales, are you not? The fact that the C major pentatonic scale, is made up of the same notes as the A minor pentatonic scale but starting from different root notes? (The root of the major scale, and the 6th of the major scale). Example: C major pentatonic: 1-2-3-5-6 C D E G A A minor pentatonic: A C D E G 6-1-2-3-5 While these scales share the same notes, they are not the same scales, and there is not just one pentatonic scale. They are still separate scales, the same way the natural minor scale is a separate scale to the major scale. And the same way the modes of the major scale are all separate to the major scale. Just because A Natural Minor shares the same notes as C Major, does not mean they are the same scale. Just because F Lydian shares the same notes as C Major, does not mean they are the same scale. The reason for this is because of the intervals between the notes. Let's revisit our example of C major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic. We're going to look at the intervals between the notes first. C major pentatonic: C - major second to - D - major second to - E - Minor third to - G - major second to - A. A minor pentatonic: A - minor third to - C - major second to D - Major second to - E - Minor third to G. Now let's looks at them in terms of intervals from their root notes.. C major pentatonic: C (root), D (major 2nd), E (major 3rd), G (perfect 5th), A (major 6th). A Minor Pentatonic: A (root) , C (Minor 3rd), D (perfect 4th), E (perfect 5th), G (Minor seventh). From that you should be able to see the clear differences between those two scales, and why they are separate and not just one 'the Pentatonic scale' .. the Minor third and seventh of the Minor Pentatonic, characterises it as a minor scale, while the major third of the major Pentatonic characterises it as major.. Yes, you can use the shapes of the Minor Pentatonic scale to play in the key of the parent major, but you will have a different root note and will have different stable and unstable notes, and you will be essentially playing the major Pentatonic scale. It's exactly the same as how you can use a major scale shape in the relative minor key, as long as you target the correct notes - you'd still be playing the natural minor scale of whatever minor key you are in. But not only do we have the major and minor pentatonic scales, we also have other pentatonic scales, such as the Egyptian Pentatonic, the Yo scale, the Man Gong scale.. I'm not quite sure what you're trying to prove, but you're appearing very ignorant man, take the opportunity to learn something! If you need me to elaborate more, just post another comment and I'll be happy to answer any questions.