Jimi Hendrix and the Major Pentatonic Scale

In this lesson, you will learn how Jimi Hendrix used the major pentatonic scale in "Little Wing." You'll also learn how you can use the same concepts in just about any situation.

Ultimate Guitar
Jimi Hendrix certainly needs no introduction to anyone, especially us, guitar players. This lick happens at about the 2:00 mark in the song.

As you can see from the tab below, the chords are F# - E - B - C#. This is no trivial detail here, as he addresses each chord individually. In this lesson, you'll not only learn how the lick works, but you'll also learn ideas that you can apply to any soloing situation.

On to the learning...

This is a 2 measure lick. With the exception of the C# major chord, Jimi addresses each chord with a major pentatonic approach.

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First Measure

He approaches both the F# and E major chords in a virtually identically fashion. For you CAGED system fans out there, he's using a G form major pentatonic scale for each chord. In other words, these scale shapes have their roots on the 6th, 3rd and 1st - just like an open position G major chord does.

In case you're not aware, the formula for a major pentatonic scale is 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 from the parent major scale. In each case, he bends from 2 to 3 in the scale, while holding the root on the 1st string. You'll actually hear country players do this kind of thing all the time. I would highly suggest that you finger notes on both strings simultaneously before playing the lick, otherwise it's hard to get the pinky to grab the top note in time.

Second Measure

He doesn't bend any notes when addressing the B major chord, but he does play 2 going to 3, as in both the F# and E major chords. This time though, he uses hammer-ons to get the job done. For the final chord (the C# major), all he does is bend the B note on the 9th fret/4th string into the C#, which is of course the root of the C# major chord.

What Else Can You Learn From This Lick?

You've learned about the specifics already (i.e. bending 2 to 3), now you'll learn some general principles that you can apply to any situation. In this lick, he addressed each chord with a major pentatonic. Since pentatonics are simply the arpeggio (1 3 5) plus 2 notes, you can apply them to just about any chord.

For any diatonic chord progression (meaning using chords directly from the key), you can use each chord's associated pentatonic. Here's what I mean by that...

Example in the Key of C

Here are the diatonic chords in the key of C:
                    I        ii       iii      IV       V        vi       vii    
Chords in key of C: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished
Scales to use: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished
pent pent pent pent pent pent N/A
For chords I through vi, we can apply the appropriate major or minor pentatonic. The result? You'll stand a great chance of hitting all the sweet notes on the chord! This is because 3 out of the 5 notes in major or minor pentatonic scales are actually the arpeggio of the chord.

Extra Credit

Notice that I didn't mention the B diminished chord. That's because there is no commonly recognized pentatonic scale that addresses diminished chords. Pentatonic scale simply means 5 note scale.

So, if we wanted to, we could concoct a 5 note scale that addresses the diminished chord. All the scale needs is the arpeggio (1 b3 b5) plus 2 more notes from the parent C major scale. See what you can come up with! If you'd like me to give some suggestions here, let me know.
Summing it all up

The first thing you need to do is master the lick as Jimi played it. You can use my video to help you with this. However, you'll really want to listen very carefully to how Jimi played it, to get inside his head so to speak - slow it down as necessary.

Then, you can practice the lick(s) from the 1st measure over any major chord in any chord progression. Then, you can apply the pentatonic concepts I discussed to any major key chord progression. You can do the same thing on minor key chord progressions as well, but they can sometimes be a bit more complicated than major key progressions, FYI.

Thanks for checking this lesson out, I hope you found something you can use in your music making!

About the Author:
Dave Lockwood is an accomplished musician and award winning teacher in the Atlanta, GA area. Keep up to date by signing up at his website, and subscribing to his YouTube channel.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hey Broadkaster - Thanks, do I look like Kurt Cobain or something? Please say no, lol... Dave