Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales

Learn these legendary scales that have shaped rock music into what it is today.

Ultimate Guitar
This lesson is to help you learn the major pentatonic, and minor pentatonic scales. They are used in many genres, but you will find them in rock, or classic rock the most.

A wide range of players from Kirk Hammet to Jimmy Page use these scales, and are a staple in every beginners bag of tricks. These are also the first scales that many people use when beginning to improvise.

In this lesson I will teach you how to make these scales, then I'll give you some box patterns that you can move around to suit your pentatonic needs. Understanding of the major scale and intervals is required here, but learning those don't take long if you've never heard of them.

Minor Pentatonic

I'm doing this one first because it appears more commonly in mainstream music than its major counterpart, from what I've seen. It's also more popular with the beginners and experienced players alike.

Your minor pentatonic scale formula is: 1 b3 4 5 b7 1. In A, that's A C D E G A. You can find all the scales for what ever key you want, but you might prefer boxes.

There are 5 box patterns for the pentatonic scale. I'll give you one for minor, one for major, and then the other 3. The most common one for minor being:

This is the most common box and is used in rock, blues and any other genre with distortion, really. Although you can turn the distortion off and play some jazz with this scale, it also sounds good with heavy metal alike. Try experimenting with it to see how it fits your style. A common choice for using the minor pentatonic is over power chords (_5), or in blues songs with dominant chords (_7).

Major Pentatonic

The major pentatonic is like the minor pentatonic, in the way that the relative minor/majors share the same notes.

Ex. C major pentatonic has the same notes as Am pentatonic.

The formula for major pentatonic is 1 2 3 5 6 1. In C, you have C D E G A C. You can find those notes on the neck and here is your major pentatonic box pattern.

The major pentatonic is used where ever you might find the minor pentatonic. The major pentatonic sounds happier, and more upbeat than the minor pentatonic, but can still be used in a rock context. This sounds good over major chords, and power chords a like. You can use this in a jazzy song even.

The other 3 box patterns of the minor pentatonic. If you want to make them minor, all you have to do is change the root note to the relative major.






So practice those 5 boxes until you feel comfortable with them, and expand them, by knowing what notes are in the scales, and finding them on the fret board. By being able to use these scales in your playing, you'll be on your way to be the next AC/DC/Led Zeppelin/any classic rock act in no time, as the pentatonic scale is one of the fundamentals in rock.

Using the Pentatonic Scales in Riffs and Solos

Here are some classic riffs that use the pentatonic scale, and then I'll give you some homemade pentatonic licks to impress your friends with. First, here's the minor pentatonic extended:


This box is slightly harder to remember, but it adds more notes to the box, so that you can extend your playing in general with the pentatonic.

Led Zeppelin - "Black Dog"

Chances are if you've heard this song, you think it's hard. It really isn't, and is built from the minor pentatonic scale, with some added notes, for flow. Here it is:

2/4 4/4 5/4
E E E E E E Q Q E E E E E E E Q Q E E E E E E E E +Q
Try that out and see how you like it.

AC/DC - "Back In Black"

Try looking at some solos by AC/DC, for some good pentatonic licks, as Angus Young likes to use the minor pentatonic. Here's part of the solo of "Back in Black."

|--3--| |--3--|
S S S S a +S a +E a +S +E S S S S S S a

+E S a +E S a S +S S S S S E. +E S S

Now Here's Some Licks to Impress Your Friends!



Also, just by playing in those boxes, you can make some nice solos, and riffs, but you've got to be creative and experiment with adding notes, or even changing notes. It's all up to you, but uses the pentatonic with discretion, as it is used a lot in rock music today, and years ago.

143 comments sorted by best / new / date

    nice! finally someone puts out stuff that is neither super complex gibberish, or a total noob lesson. Perfect for me b/c I'm intermediate, but still need to work on theory and scales and what not (I taught myself, so I didn't get a single practice of scales until I found this website. Now I teach myself with the help of this website.)
    the last of your box patterns for the minor pentatonic has a typo. on the A string, you're showing the 'o' on the second instead of the minor third.
    i thought maj and min pentatonic scales were the same positions just 3 steps down?
    Nice MAN!!!! 10 ***** And Slash OWNZ!!And dime same here I've learnd all Metallica solo's then i started to jam out and noticed i was playing a pattern haha which was pentonic scale..a very nice scale
    Who thel hell is this Zakk Wylde guy. lmao
    bursts into flames and slaps stargazer10454 great lesson, i worked out the first minor on my own and knew about scales just couldnt be assed to find and learn em, this is a serious gem when ur messing round just jamming.
    i read in a zach wild guitar bootcamp in guitar world that zach mainly uses minor pentatonic, and minor scales
    hey bandgeek10, shut the hell up. its a picture, how much simpler do u want, take your guitar turn it so the fretboard is facing up, and look at the screen. WHOA, OMG, WOW, SHUCKS, IT MAKES SENSE NOW, THAT BOGGLED MY MIND... dumbass
    Good article. I like how you posted all the modes instead of just the minor. 4 stars.
    sweet article degete my cuzin learned on the internet and he is awesome
    altho he had some help from other ppl as well lol but mostly internet
    ethics gradient
    yeah, i got that speed picking book at hastings for around $15. it comes with a cd to practice along with. really helped. brought me from a complete ****tard to mildly lame in a couple of weeks. highly recommended for begginers
    great lesson on the maj. and min. pent. scales. I don't understand your formula for finding the notes though... could you explain how it works?
    im sorry but i cant understand cause im a begginer i really dont understand..... can somebody help me out of this?
    Thats some great instruction for a solid grounding to learn with. Those, who take the time to understand what thier playing will always come across in a much more positive way.
    Pretty good lesson, it helped me out a lot... But am I the only one who found the typo when you were talking about the 3 other box patterns? "The other 3 Box Patterns, of the minor pentatonic. If you want to make them minor , all you have to do is change the root note to the reletive major. (See link in introduction)" I think you meant to say "If you want to make them major ..." because it doesn't make sense otherwise .
    wait, thatd means that a minor ppentatonic box moved dwon 3 frets is a major, right?
    I bet you think im inexperienced and really dumb. But I just cant understand all this stuff about scales.
    easy to understand for the average player, thanks i had no idea the minor could be explained so easily.
    are the positions the same even in alternate tuning?good article btw
    Great article for beginners i think it would be really great if you could have listed all the notes in the different keys of each scale. That would have helped me even more, thanks anyway! its a 9 for me
    metal_man696 wrote: what scales does zakk wylde use anyway?
    Who thel hell is this Zakk Wylde guy. lmao
    great lesson, thanks. explains it really well rather than just giving the patterns
    Ok so that "b3" means flat third, right? Third Is like half step + whole step, right? RIGHT?
    this is very handy, i can play them all just my memory is shat so thanks alot cos now i can just print em off etc gotta be 10/10 this can help anyone in whatever skill category
    Your Minor Pentatonic scale formula is: 1 b3 4 5 b7 1. In A, thats A C D E G A
    Ok so that "b3" means flat third, right? Third Is like half step + whole step, right? RIGHT?
    Big "O" means that this note is a root note. If u play minor scale from 3rd fret on lowest (fattest) string (that's E string) then you will play G minor scale. Root note is one that "makes" the name of scale. So you can tell your friend what scale you play, ok?;] With those damn "o's" you can relate to every scale 'cause the shape is always the same. If you'll read this diagram with guitar in hand then after reading one line you can play it all up.
    i know this as my major scale... whys it different. e|-|-o-|-O-|---|---|---| B|-|---|-o-|---|-o-| ---| G|-|-o-|---|-o-|-o-|---| D|-|-o-|---|-o-|-O-|---| A| -|-o-|-o-|---|-o-|---| E|-|---|-O-|---|-o-|---|
    Great article. I followed along with no prob. I did however learn it from watching this video before hand so for all those who need a visual here is a great link
    I hope thats not wrong to post but it is just as helpful as this article. They work well together. Whatever. Play on, folks. Peace