Major Pentatonics: Major Fun

author: jelleman date: 07/19/2004 category: guitar scales and modes
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Ok everybody has been here: you wanna learn to solo and you have heard about "pentatonic scales". Everybody says pentatonics are the way to go for improvisation (and they are a big help) but you have no idea how they work. This lesson is for you because I was there and although there are some really good lessons on this site about pentatonics, they are sometimes hard to understand without knowing some musical theory. Please read the first bit of the lesson, I know it seems like an endless page of bla bla and notes but I promise you that if you just read it, you will understand it and save yourself hours of figuring this stuff out from other lesson pages. First I'm going to talk about the basic theory so that people will hopefully understand it, and then I'll tab the patterns for those who just wanna play the tabs and don't actually care. A pentatonic a scale pattern with 5 notes (hence the term penta). Ok, well we know an normal major scale (also know as a ionian scale) is made up of 8. For example:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
Ok so how we get a pentatonic scale from a major scale is by using the 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 notes of the scale. What does that mean?? Simple, count up starting from C. So C = 1, D = 2, E = 3, F = 4, G = 5, A = 6, B = 7, and C = octave or 8. Ok so now lets form the pentatonic we have 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 which is C D E G A. Not too hard is it?? Ok lets analyse it a bit further.. In between every note, there is a # or sharp. The only exception to this is E and B. What does this mean? Ok there are 8 notes: A, B, C, D, E, F and G and in between all of them except B and E there are sharps, so we have: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G. Ok so moving up from an note to a sharp (like an A to an A#, or an A# to a B) is called a semitone. On your guitar it is basically moving up a fret. Anyways we learn the number of semitones between each note so that we can come up with a general forumla to make pentatonics. Going back to the C D E G A we have between C and D two semitones (C -> C# = 1, C# to D = 2). Ok between D and E is 2 semitones (D -> D# =1, D# -> E = 2). Between E to G is 3 semitones (E -> F =1, F -> F# = 2, F# -> G = 3). And finally between G and A is 2 semitones (G -> G# = 1, G# ->A = 2). All of these give us a general formula: R (or root note) + 2 semitones + 2 semitones + 3 semitones + 2 semitones = five notes in the pentatonic scale. (or R + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2). Lets use some examples:
R = A -> A + 2 semitones (A -> A# = 1, A# -> B = 2) = B. 
B + 2 semitones (B -> C = 1, C -> C# = 2)= C#
C# + 3 semitones (C# -> D = 1, D -> D# = 2, D# -> E = 3) = E. 
E + 2 semitones (E -> F = 1, F -> F# = 2).
So we get A B C# E F# for the A Major Pentatonic scale. So the scales are:
A B  C# E  F#
B C# D# F# G#
C D  E  G  A
D E  F# A  B
E F# G# B  C#
F G  A  C  D
G A  B  D  E
OK now we got through all of that (make sure you remember that, it is very important) we can tab them. What is really cool is that they all descend in a specific pattern down, which is universal (like the formula). This pattern looks like this:
e|| - | - | o | - | R |
b|| - | - | o | - | o |
g|| - | o | - | o | - |
d|| - | o | - | - | R |
a|| - | o | - | - | o |
E|| - | - | R | - | o |
Don't be scared off just yet! I'll explain. Each R or 0 represents where your finger must go on the fretboard. The R's are simply there to show you where the root note is so that you know where to start your improvisation (I'll explain this bit later). Ok this diagram is universal, so each point on the diagram can be anywhere on the fretboard, depending on where you want to start. Basically it looks like this when you play: Lets say you want to descend in C (which is the 8th fret of the 6th string) it looks like this:
e|| - | - | 8 | - | 10 |
b|| - | - | 8 | - | 10 |
g|| - | 7 | - | 9 | -  |
d|| - | 7 | - | - | 10 |
a|| - | 7 | - | - | 10 |
E|| - | - | 8 | - | 10 |
or in Tab form:
Ok, now how I use this to improvise? Good question. First of all you have to know chords are used in the song. Lets make it a simple one. C, E, and G. Ok now we know what notes we should use in the scale so that it sounds good with the song. Ok second of all you need to know your fretboard! I found this website was useful in helping me memorize it (scroll down the page). Learn it and use programs like Fretboard warrior (download from here) for practice. So you band is jamming in those three chords and they nodd and its your time to solo something. Ok so start with C so we can start at like the 10th fret on the 4th string. Descend the scale and play it back up. Then move down to the 12th fret on the 6th string which is an E, desend the scale and ascend it again. All that is just a simple form of improvisation. If you really want it to sound good, then you will be creative and do stuff like string skipping and hammerons, pulloffs, vibrato's. Here is an example of a simple impro using no fancy techniques just descending the scale. It may not sound amazing but it still fits with the chords C E and G:
     C                   E

  E               G    

Pentatonic Majors sound good with metal, blues and even punk. Again its all about the way you decide to improvise it, I always end up making it sounds bluesy because that my style, but each for there own. Ok so thats basically that. I will do a few more lessons based on this on pentatonic minors. It really really similair, and sounds really blues, and lots of metal. Hope this helps, please email me at: for any further questions or if I wasn't clear enough, or made mistakes.
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