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.

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Ultimate Guitar
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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 |
^
Nut

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:


e|-------------------------8-10--------
B|--------------------8-10-------------
G|----------------7-9------------------
D|-----------7-10----------------------
A|------7-10---------------------------
E|-8-10--------------------------------

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|--------------8-10-11-12-13-14-12------------------
B|---------8-10--------------------14-12-------------
G|-----7-9-------------------------------13-11-------
D|--10----------------------------------------14-11--
A|---------------------------------------------------
E|---------------------------------------------------

E G
e|-------------------------------13-15-15-15---------
B|-------------------------13-15-------------13-15---
G|----------------12-13-14---------------------------
D|-14-11-14-11-14------------------------------------
A|---------------------------------------------------
E|---------------------------------------------------

G
e|---------------------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------------------
G|-14-12---------------------------------------------
D|-------15-12---------------------------------------
A|-------------15-12---------------------------------
E|-------------------15-12---------------------------

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: fire_0000@hotmail.com for any further questions or if I wasn't clear enough, or made mistakes.

174 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    JamesT91
    e|| - | - | o | - | R |
    b|| - | - | o | - | o |
    g|| - | o | - | o | - |
    d|| - | o | - | - | R |
    a|| - | o | - | - | o |
    E|| - | - | R | - | o |
     ^ 
    Nut
    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
    Renegade8704
    why is everyone so against theory? are people so lazy that they won't learn something that's valuable to a musician. Music is built on theory. Do yourselves a favor and stop b!tching and learn a little.
    notoriousnumber
    and of course you get that impression from all the people up there saying "great guide" and "helped alot" hey it seemed they learned alot, as did i
    atkm2891
    thats great, i had no idea what
    e|| - | - | o | - | R |
    b|| - | - | o | - | o |
    g|| - | o | - | o | - |
    d|| - | o | - | - | R |
    a|| - | o | - | - | o |
    E|| - | - | R | - | o |
    meant
    undone89
    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.
    hippieboy444
    Its cool, but I dont understand. Somebody help me by emailing me at hippieboy444@aim.com!!!!!
    Darryl
    by the way the lesson was awsome thanks dude!!! keep on jammin!!!!!
    Darryl
    e|-----7-9-10-11-12-10-----10-12-14-19-----||
    B|---7-9-----12-10-----12-10-----||
    G|-9-----11-9-----11-9-----||
    D|------12-9-----12-9-----||
    A|-----12-10-----||
    E|-----||
    I don't think you would see it well but if you do could you tell me if my small lick is good.it is made from the pentatonics g,e and d.it is not much but for the first time improvising with pentatonics personally I think it is good.could someone give me his opinion on my small lick??
    Darryl
    by the way the lesson was awsome thanks dude!!! keep on jammin!!!!!
    Rockfall
    e|| - | - | o | - | R |
    b|| - | - | o | - | o |
    g|| - | o | - | o | - |
    d|| - | o | - | - | R |
    a|| - | o | - | - | o |
    E|| - | - | R | - | o |
    youve put a root note in a diff place on each E string, wont it be:
    e|| - | - | R | - | o |
    b|| - | - | o | - | o |
    g|| - | o | - | o | - |
    d|| - | o | - | - | R |
    a|| - | o | - | - | o |
    E|| - | - | R | - | o |
    Keefer
    Is it just me, or at the end when he says he's soloing in G, isn't it actually F? The G pentatonic in that form goes up e 15 17 b 15 17 g 14 16 d 14 17 a 14 17 E 15 17 I'm no whiz by any means, but I'm sorta confused...
    SilentDeftone
    Is it just me, or at the end when he says he's soloing in G, isn't it actually F?
    What you tabbed is G major pentatonic. F would be the 13th fret of an E string. -SD
    smalltollie
    This article is a great help. Really appreciated. But could someone please explain the root note to me? Cos in jelleman's example you say its in the key of C, but the 3 root notes are D,D and E. I don't follow?
    Sicking
    Thanks a lot for this lesson dude i really appriciated it help me alot understanding certain stuff and made it more clear well done!
    CrazyLikeaFox
    amazing, finally someone who actually took the time to explain it to us people who dont get things so easily, 5 stars!
    imcfox87
    this is ok, its right i think from what i breezed through. but the majority of solos are based on the minor pentatonic scale.
    StephnG
    All the information I was looking for, plus some more. Very nice. Kudos to you.
    matx33
    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.
    stratkat
    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.
    guitaringsailor
    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