Minor Pentatonic Over 3 Octaves

Although I will be focusing predominantly on playing the Minor Pentatonic Scale over 3 octaves, this lesson will give you the tools you need to take your first major steps in improvising and soloing.

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The internet is filled with hundreds of lessons on pentatonic scales. In fact, many of them don't even provide any new information, although they may explain the same idea in a different way that the reader may understand better. I'd like to share with you a concept that I use every time I play in minor pentatonic, but I have yet to see anything about this elsewhere. And while this info may not technically be new, as it could possibly be extrapolated out of the other lessons on pentatonic scales, I have never seen this specific idea presented. Although I will be focusing predominantly on playing the Minor Pentatonic Scale over 3 octaves, this lesson will give you the tools you need to take your first major steps in improvising and soloing. So let's get started!

The Minor Pentatonic

I'm willing to put my money down and say that 99% of the people that read this are thoroughly familiar with something that looks like this:
e|-0-----0- 
B|-0-----0- 
G|-0---0---
D|-0---0--- 
A|-0---0--- 
E|-0-----0-
This is often called Minor Pentatonic 1st Position, and if you're unaware, it spans over 2 octaves, plus an additional G note at the end (assuming we're talking about E minor). This is the same with the other 4 positions. Learning this and the other positions is a great way to get started, and you can make some fairly simple solos, fills, or improvisations with just that knowledge. But, if you're anything like me, that will get boring quite quickly and you'll want to take it to the next step. This example is E minor pentatonic over 3 octaves. Recommended fingering below tab.
e|-------------------------------10-12- 
B|-----------------------8-10-12------- 
G|-------------------7-9--------------- 
D|-------------5-7-9------------------- 
A|---------5-7------------------------- 
E|-0-3-5-7----------------------------- 
     1 3 3 1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1  3  3  1  3
Here are some things to notice about this scale. The most obvious is that this scale uses only your index and 3rd finger, making it very easy to play. The second is that this brings out a lot of 'boxes' that you can use for phrases. Allow me to point them out:
e|------------- 
B|------------- 
G|------------- 
D|---------5-7- 
A|-----5-7----- 
E|-5-7---------
 
e|---------
B|---------
G|-----7-9-
D|-7-9-----
A|---------
E|---------
 
e|-------10-12-
B|-10-12-------
G|-------------
D|-------------
A|-------------
E|-------------
And my personal favorite:
e|----------
B|-----8-10-
G|-7-9------
D|----------
A|----------
E|----------

How To Practice This

For the more advanced players, getting this scale down will be no problem. If you're where I was when I learned this, you may want some help. Here are the 3 things I did when I was first learning this. These should all be done with a metronome. 1. Play the scale up and down. I'm aware that this is terribly obvious, but I mention it because I want to point out a few things regarding the fingering. This is the fingering I recommend for descending:
e|-12-10------------------------------- 
B|-------12-10-8----------------------- 
G|---------------9-7------------------- 
D|-------------------9-7-5------------- 
A|-------------------------7-5--------- 
E|-----------------------------7-5-3-0-
    3  1  3  1 1*2*1 3 1 1 3 1 3 1 1
Notice that you shift positions now with the index finger, and the middle finger has to do some work this time. 2. Play the scale, add some rhythm. Pretty simple concept, here's an example:
e|---------------------------------------------------------------- 
B|-----------------------------------------------------------8---8 
G|-----------------------------------------------7---7-9-7-9---9-- 
D|-----------------------------5---5-7-5-7-9-7-9---9-------------- 
A|-----------------5---5-7-5-7---7-------------------------------- 
E|-0-3-5-3-5-7-5-7---7--------------------------------------------
     1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1*2*1
 
------------------10----10-12-12b15-|
-10-8-10-12-10-12----12-------------|
------------------------------------|
------------------------------------|
------------------------------------|
------------------------------------|
 3  1  3  3  1  3  1  3  1  3  3
Now it starts to sound a little musical! Pay close attention to the fingering on this one! 3. Use it to improvise! This scale is great for improvising. It's fun, even just to play along with a metronome. There are limitless possibilities for hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bent notes, etc. You can really use just about every trick in the book with this little scale here.

What You Can Do With This

Here's a couple licks to get you started. These will all be in the same key I've been using (E minor) so you have the option of mixing these up and stringing them together, but I STRONGLY encourage you to develop your own licks, and furthermore, don't get stuck playing the same licks over and over.
e|-12b13-12-10----10-------10------------- 
B|-------------12----12-10----12-10-8~---- 
G|---------------------------------------- 
D|---------------------------------------- 
A|---------------------------------------- 
E|----------------------------------------
 
e|---------------------------------------- 
B|-10-8---10-8---------------------------- 
G|------9------9-7/9~--------------------- 
D|---------------------------------------- 
A|---------------------------------------- 
E|----------------------------------------
This next one bends up to a note in the blues scale. More on that in another lesson.
e|---------------------------------------- 
B|---------------------------------------- 
G|---------------------------------------- 
D|-----5-7-7b8r7-5-7~--------------------- 
A|-5-7------------------------------------ 
E|----------------------------------------
This one slides up to a box in the 1st position shape you should already be familiar with.
e|---------------------------------------- 
B|---------------------------------------- 
G|-----7-9/14~---12-14-12----12----------- 
D|-7-9--------------------14----14-12-14~- 
A|---------------------------------------- 
E|----------------------------------------
Moving from box to box is great way to keep sounding fresh. You don't necessarily want to be all over the fret board in a single phrase, but try playing a solo with the same 4 notes. It gets boring really fast. It's all about balance. Another nice trick is to play a phrase once, and then play it again an octave higher, or a fifth higher. Like so:
e|---------------------------------------- 
B|---------------------------------------- 
G|--------------------------7-9b10r9-7---- 
D|-----5-7-7b8r7-5------7-9------------9-- 
A|-5-7-------------7~--------------------- 
E|----------------------------------------
You can use this same concept to harmonize 2 guitar parts, or to establish a theme melody for a song and get more miles out of that melody.

The Real Fun

By now, you should have a very thorough understanding of the Minor Pentatonic Scale. If you've studied the 5 2-octave shapes, and this 3 octave scale, you should have no problem playing the in Minor Pentatonic all over the neck. Well, the next thing to do would be to start actually playing! Pentatonic scales work very well with the blues. Get on Google and look for some blues jam tracks (there are hundreds, even thousands out there for free) and start jamming away. Bring your friends over and jam with them. Improvise solos to your favorite blues or rock songs (Aerosmith works really well for this). A quick note about key. I've dealt only with E minor for this entire lesson, but obviously an E minor scale isn't going to work over a G minor chord progression. Here's a quick tip to get into key at first. Lets say the progression is G minor. All you need to do is take the whole scale and move it up so the root note of the scale (the open E in the other examples) is the note of the key. In this case, you would move the scale up 3 frets so the root is the G note at the 3rd fret, and play it up and down from there once or twice until you're comfortable enough to get started. You'll want to try and grow out of this quickly, though, and really learn to see the scale in any key. Imagine being on stage and saying 'Before our next song, allow me to get into key. 3, 6, 8, 10... Okay!' Not exactly cool.

Final Thoughts

So that's it! I've just given you all the knowledge you need to take your first big steps toward improvising, jamming, soloing, and writing great pieces of music. All with just a simple scale. And when I say that, I mean that you can play shows knowing nothing more than this. I know because that is how I played my first shows. And I truly hope that if you haven't played on a stage yet, you can take this knowledge and go for it, because there is no better feeling in the world! 2009, Chris Weyers All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Chris Weyers is a teacher at the Seattle School of Guitar. For more free lessons, articles, and videos, visit the Seattle School of Guitar website.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    lespaulmaster
    Hey, I did learn something new from the old pentatonic scale. Thanks for the advice Chris. Simple but very useful. Keep em coming. Good article!
    wolfie_walford
    Ive been playing chords for years and fancied having a go at some soloing. Every other lesson i have seen so far seems daunting but you have written this brilliantly. The finger recomends were very helpfull. Thanks buddy
    ogion
    Wow man thanks !!! I was stuck in my boxes. Thanks for pulling me out the other side ay.
    joere444
    This was pretty cool, I was looking for a jazz type of Octave playing like what Wes Montgomery was doing, but you know that is my fault haha.
    ian3fingers
    Chris, Your personal favorite crops up in the middle of the solo in Thin Lizzy'z Whiskey in jar. I found it great solo for a beginner and now after reading your lesson I've learnt a little about how its structured. Cheers!
    nahiluhmot
    If you learn the CAGED system, you can play this over three octaves, but be limited to the frets you can use like you are with this.
    rhoadsfan92
    so how would you recommend it without the open? slide your first finger up the minor third? other than that small bit of missing info, good article. not enough people bother with anything outside of the first box you showed, most people see me playing a different form and theyre like "youre doing it wrong." that or i hang out with idiots. both are possible
    tommaso.zillio
    The fun with this kind of diagonal patterns is that the same pattern repeats every 2 strings. They are damn easy to learn and play. Nice article!
    chrisweyers
    rhoadsfan, thats exactly how I would do it, although I find I don't usually hit that note except maybe at the end of phrases, so it doesn't usually come up. But you're right, I probably should have mentioned that, thanks for the feedback!
    Zakattak264
    badass, my main soloing technique is the 2 octave minor, thnx for pointing out an obvious way for me to expand it.
    chrisweyers
    Thanks for the support! I've already got plans for a sequel, so keep an eye out for it sometime next month!
    Yash Somaiya
    Excellent article brother, a very well written one. Hope you write more informative pieces like this. Great job!
    a55a551n1191
    My guitar teacher taught me this way And in different keys such as Dm, Am, Gm etc It really kicks ass for learning to improvise well