Major Pentatonics: Major Fun

Everybody says pentatonics are the way to go for improvisation, but you have no idea how they work? Here is the lesson on pentatonics which is easy and fun.

Ultimate Guitar
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#
D E F# A B
E F# G# B C#

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:




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.

174 comments sorted by best / new / date

    e|| - | - | o | - | R |
    b|| - | - | o | - | o |
    g|| - | o | - | o | - |
    d|| - | o | - | - | R |
    a|| - | o | - | - | o |
    E|| - | - | R | - | o |
    in that diagram isnt the Root wrong on the high E. if the root note is C then it should be 8th fret on both E strings
    YOU. ARE. GOD. *Gives praise and bows because he is not worthy* This was the best tutorial I've ever seen. And it helped me out a ton.
    I was thinking about this just before I read this and didnt understand how the notes related to each other. Now I know... Damn good lesson. For those that didnt understand the lesson. Read it again.
    So far, I only opened these links you wrote (f.ex.fretboard-warrior). I love them. This is exactly what I was looking for. I would really appreciate it, if anybody could write a list of good Web-Sites which offer free software or lessons for guitar. Thank you very much.
    this is one of the best lesons that i have seen in the web, so thx
    great lesson, had already figured a lot out myself but this was hte final touch now i think i get it completely =) thanks a lot
    i dont get this. the thing says 12 13 14 but the scale doesnt go that far
    Great lesson. Like many others I learnt the scales but havent been able tio use them to their full potential. After reading this Im sure ill be able to make it work alot better. Many thanks
    GREATEST TUTORIAL ON PENTATONIC's I think in every tutorial, theory should be introduced as you did here! THANKS A LOT!\m/
    Stop ****ing about with this theory. Learn how to tune your guitar... then play it as you feel it. A scale is the equivalent to a child's picture. With rules to say that a house should really be drawn on grass and not in the middle of the page, or notes should be arranged this way, because this is how it's correctly done! Forget what you have learnt here today and do something unorthodox, God forbid, different maybe...
    This lesson really helped me get back on my guitar. I stopped for 2 years being so frustrated that im not improving,Thanks Man,Now i sleep 4:30 in the morning practicing. Brilliant lesson
    at last a person who explains in dummy language and not in this theory crap... im sure theory will help later on but this is a gud start. cheers bro.
    Man, I was seriously about to just give up on learning scales until I read this. I took this home and tried this out and began applying it to my music almost as soon as I learned it. I'm kind of shocked this didn't recieve that coveted "10" rating.
    Its cool, but I dont understand. Somebody help me by emailing me at!!!!!
    joostluiten : I'm kinda a guitar dummy so don't start nagging at me but I dont get this. I'm with it till he puts the scale in tab but I really don't see how that scale relates to the "solos"he gives you later. different notes in different order. Can somebody explain plz
    well in the solo at the end starting in c (d string 10th fret), that c is a root note. it helps to have a scale explained in colour, but bear with me. so because this note is the root of the scale, that's what your scale is played in. he could also have started it on the low e string (6th string) at the 8th fret. hope this helped a bit.
    WantToLearn wrote: I really don't understand any of this
    neither do i. those diagrams r wat did it for me. i understand the tabs but wat r the little circles for.
    wow, great lesson man, this really helped me understand it alot, thanks a mill bro!
    I would rephrase the description of flats and sharps at the beginning of the article. Instead of: 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 it should say Each letter can be raised a half-step, or semi-tone,(1 fret) which is called a Sharp, or lowered, which is a Flat. I.e. G raised a fret is G#, A lowered a fret is Ab, and G# and Ab are the same note. The exception is between B and C, and between E and F, where raising one fret,semi-tone,orhalfstep takes you to the next letter. I.e. E raised a fret is F, C lowered a fret is B. Hope that helped. (hint... look at the keys of a piano. the black keys are the sharps/flats. Between b and c, and e and f there is no black key.)
    awesome!!!! i just got into taking the guitar seriously and this really helped me undertsand how all the notes come together while improvising. it also made me learn hoe the fretboard is arranged. GREAT JOB!!!!!
    Thank you so much, I'm gonna go memorize the notes on the guitar, I've already noticed a patern, so it shouldn't take to long, it'll be hell of a lot easier then school work.
    oh my friend i have a very big problem can you help me w/ your scaling lesson the effective one that helps my little finger to move?/
    great article dude, there wasn't too much reading so i kinda got it until it started getting kinda long but that's just me... hehe i'm near hopeless when it comes to musical theory...