Soloing With The Minor Pentatonic Scale

This will teach you first off what the minor pentatonic scale is, and secondly teach you how to find out where to put it on the fretboard to solo. This is the scale that is used most by almost all of the genres of music that use a guitar, so it will be very useful.

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So this "pentatonic" scale thing, everyone's saying how awesome it is to solo in it, and how you should be able to improvise 15 minutes off of the top of your head with it. Well, after we're done with you here, you will be. First off, here's the minor pentatonic scale with the root on the 5th fret (which just happens to be the key of A).
e|---------------------5-8-|
B|-----------------5-8-----|   And then
G|-------------5-7---------|   repeat back
D|---------5-7-------------|   the other way.
A|-----5-7-----------------|
E|-5-8---------------------|
So now that you know what the scale is, go get good at it. I mean REALLY good. Before you go on stage and get ready to jam, you should be able to go from the high E string to the low E string and back in about 5 seconds, WITHOUT LOOKING, just for starters. So your band mates come to you and say, "hey we wanna do (insert song here)". So you look at the chords your rhythm guitarist is doing, and you deduce (or you can just ask him, I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you) what key the song is in. For the sake of this lesson, we'll say it's in G. Look at the tab of the pentatonic scale again. You'll notice the 5th fret comes up a lot in there. What you need to pay attention to is the very first note in that scale (the one on the low E string). That happens to be the A note. This is called the root note. The root note tells you what key the whole scale is in. So, back to that song you and your band mates were talking about. It's in the key of G. You look for the G note on your low E string. It's on the 3rd fret. Therefore, your scale that you'll be working with is:
e|---------------------3-6-|
B|-----------------3-6-----|
G|-------------3-5---------|
D|---------3-5-------------|
A|-----3-5-----------------|
E|-3-6---------------------|
Now that you have the basic scale down, there's a little something else you can throw in there. It's kind of hard to explain in writing, so bear with me. Still looking at the key of G, there's a little something that you can attach onto any minor pentatonic scale.
e|-------6-8-|
B|---6-8-----|
G|-7---------|
D|-----------|
A|-----------|
E|-----------|
You can find where to attach this little thing by looking at the second of the 2 notes on the highest 2 strings in any pentatonic scale. In the key of G, they're both on the same fret (which they always will be)l the 6th fret. That tells you that you can play that little thing starting on the 6th fret with that shape. So for the key of A that I first showed you the pentatonic scale in, it would be:
e|--------8-10-|
B|---8-10------|
G|-9-----------|
D|-------------|
A|-------------|
E|-------------|
Last thing to come is octaves. With almost any key you play this scale in, you can play it in 2 places on the neck. If you have a 24 fret guitar, you can play ANY minor pentatonic scale in 2 places. However, I just have a good 'ol Strat, so it's only 22 frets. The guitar is naturally an E instrument. I dunno if this is the proper wording for it, but you'll see what I mean in a moment. The "open" minor pentatonic scale is this:
e|---------------------0-3--|
B|-----------------0-3------|
G|-------------0-2----------|
D|---------0-2--------------|
A|-----0-2------------------|
E|-0-3----------------------|
This is in the key of E. You can imagine that the "zero fret" is the root note, thus E. This can be played 1 octave up, like this:
e|-------------------------------12-15-|
B|-------------------------12-15-------|
G|-------------------12-14-------------|
D|-------------12-14-------------------|
A|-------12-14-------------------------|
E|-12-15-------------------------------|
That first note on the low E string is still E, just one octave up, see? Last example, that scale in G from before, just one octave up:
e|-------------------------------15-18-|
B|-------------------------15-18-------|
G|-------------------15-17-------------|
D|-------------15-17-------------------|
A|-------15-17-------------------------|
E|-15-18-------------------------------|
You can think of the whole fretboard from the 0-11th fret repeating from the 12th to whatever fret your last fret is. Those dots can help you to find out where to go (for example, the 1st dot corresponds to the first dot after the double dots, which are the 12th fret, and where the 2nd octave begins). So there you go! Once you get good at these, you're ready to improvise, and impress any tab memorizing weirdo that comes along (not a good thing to say on this site. To help you out, here's a blues lick I just thought of, it's probably been used about 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 times. Let's see if you can tell what key it's in.
e|------7---------------------------|
B|----7---10bZYABLA~HUYABLA---------------------|
G|-9b-----------9br-7---7-----------|
D|--------------------9---9ZYABLA~HUYABLA-9p7h9-|
A|----------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------|
Email me with comments or if you need help/don't understand any part of this.

42 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Anticrombie23
    Overall, this is a good lesson, and people bashing it saying it's pointless, then it obviously wasn't directed towards you. The problem though is, when you say "it's in the key of G," and you can pivot off that with the first pentatonic form, you're actually in the key of G minor pentatonic. If you're looking to pivot with a major, you'd pivot off your pinky. For example, the initial scale you showed, 5-8,5-7,5-7....etc, is in the key of AM/C, being C is the major root, and A minor is the minor root. So if your friend says play in the key of G, make sure you're pivoting off your pinky instead of your index, otherwise you're just playing in A sharp/B flat (from your example). Pivoting with your index = minor root Pivoting with your pinkey= major root (with this specific pentatonic form, since they're multiple, and with multiple there are multiple major/minor roots..etc)
    LukeElliff
    Thanks for the help, I'm a rhythm guitarist, and I needed help on writing solos so thanks
    humalogmix
    srvkicks@$$ wrote: leads_usdr2 wrote: soloing by just following one key is damn boring.... It's a pretty amateur it doesnt matter what key its in its all about the sound look if your solo sounds good, then its good, if it sounds bad its bad, who gives a crap about keys and thoeries
    in jazz and blues if you are playing fast enough you can play out of key (slash; hendrix) and it still sounds good. and key and theory is important! if you are playing with a band and a song is in the key of G and you are just hitting random notes it'll sound bad. there are different shapes that can be placed on the neck rather than just the basic one here. look up the pentatonic minor scale somewhere else and you'll see its comprised of the notes A-C-D-E-G. if you look into it some more you'd see that the notes B and F are also in key (just not part of the scale). the november rain solo by slash is entirely in the key of A. look at an accurate tab for it and you'll see that every note hit in the solo is an A, B, C, D, E, F, or G.
    bluesguyjon
    WOAH, I had totally forgotten I had made this lesson, now I come back and I see it's helped so many people out. Thanks for the comments!
    srvkicks@$$
    leads_usdr2 wrote: soloing by just following one key is damn boring.... It's a pretty amateur
    it doesnt matter what key its in its all about the sound look if your solo sounds good, then its good, if it sounds bad its bad, who gives a crap about keys and thoeries
    dazultra
    guitardude54321 wrote: alright, But if u already know this its quite pointless
    You could say that about ANY lesson! I think its an Awesome lesson 10/10 (I think the solo is is B)
    slayer457
    Great lesson, ive been soloing off this scale or a while now, and i rekon just the simple scale in itself sounds half decent lol. Well done
    Joepicksalot
    I've been playing guitar well over a year.. I kinda taught myself all this stuff.. But this is a really helpful tip/trick/gotta know; sorta thing. I found this really really helpful. It kinda makes you feel like a genious. Who SHREDS in E. Lol.
    hosie7
    @guitarzzan - I can see why you have went for E but it is in fact B. Generally a song's chord progression will start in the key/root note but this is not always the case with soloing - however the last note of the lead / solo will almost always land on the root / key - such as the case with the solo above. It finishes on B.This is an excellent lesson and very well written.I am very much a beginner on guitar but I believe my theory, particularly on the Minor Pentatonic Scale is sound and so will add a few examples below which I think will help others (based on comments above). Minor pentatonic scale formula = 1 b3 4 5 b7 The note sequence is - 322233. These numbers indicate the number of frets between each note of the scale. After your first note (key/root) you jump 3 notes, 2 notes, 2 notes, 2 notes, 3 notes, 3 notes.So if you begin on A (5th fret) your second note is 3 frets down the fretboard (C). then you go down a string to the D, and go down 2 frets to the E. You then go down a string to the G, followed by 2 frets down to begin the scale again on the A.To make things clearer below is a list of all keys/roots in their 1 position (ie. on the low E (top string of your guitar). You will notice the order is alphabetical as you read down each note. So if you look at 4th note of the A scale and read down the 4th note of all other chords (it is in perfect alphabetical order). This is the same for all of the notes. So once you have written out A pentatonic is super easy to write the rest.Minor pentatonic scale formula = 1 b3 4 5 b7This formula is very easy to understand. The 1st note is the key/root note - so let's say we are in A - to get the 2nd note which is b3 we simply jump to the 3rd letter of the alphabet from A which is C. The next 2 notes are easy because they are 4th and 5th. The final note jumps from 5 to 7 so we jump the 6th note (F) which makes the 7th note G. I have written out all 1st positions for each root/key note below which will hopefully give people a better understanding and allow them to write out themselves: * for some reason these look unclear when I post this. Please feel free to message me and I can email a full PDF of this which is more clear and easy to read. 1 3b 4 5 7b A 5th A Cb D E Gb B 7th B Db E F Ab C 8th C Eb F G Bb D 10th D Fb G A Cb E 12th E Gb A B Db F 1st F Ab B C Eb G 3rd G Bb C D Fb Below is a list of all keys/roots in tab form. A e|-----5-8-| B|-----5-8-----| G|-----5-7-----| D|-----5-7-----| A|-----5-7-----| E|-5-8-----| B e|-----7--10--| B|-----7- -10-----| G|-----7--9-----| D|-----7--9-----| A|-----7--9--- --| E|--7--10-----| C e|-----8--11--| B|-----8--11-----| G |-----8--10-----| D|-----8--10-----| A|-----8--10-----| E|-- 8--11-----| D e|-----10--13--| B|-----10--13-----| G|----- 10--12-----| D|-----10--12-----| A|-----10--12-----| E|--10- -13-----| E e|-----12-15-| B|-----12-15-----| G|-----12-1 4-----| D|-----12-14-----| A|-----12-14-----| E|-12-15-----| F e|-----1-4-| B|-----1-4-----| G|-----1-3-----| D|-----1 -3-----| A|-----1-3-----| E|-1-4-----| G e|-----3-6-| B|-----3-6-----| G|-----3-5-----| D|-----3-5- ----| A|-----3-5-----| E|-3-6-----| Hope this helps people as I've tried to break it down in to as easy a thought process as possible. Cheers. Craig.
    hosie7
    I'm unable to edit my post above which is frustrating as it doesn't look very good. For those interested in the above in PDF format please send me a message or email me. @guitarzzan The best and perhaps easiest way to work out the key for the solo is write down the notes within the solo. The solo starts off in E as you said. It then goes to F#, then B, F, E, D, D, B, B, B, A, B. So if you write down what notes you have in your solo they are B, D, E, F, A. Now look at your minor pentatonic keys and walah. It can only be B. B has all of those notes within it's structure. Hope that helps!
    holy goalie
    I have been playing guitar aslong as I can remember and improvisation during a solo is something I can't grasp Well until I read this lesson VERY GOOD LESSON
    miskatsu
    guitardude54321 wrote: alright, But if u already know this its quite pointless
    why did you read this then? This might help starters to solo!
    firehosed
    If you are using a MINOR PENTATONIC scale to solo, you should use it over the RELATIVE MAJOR key. For instance, if a song is in the the key of C MAJOR (which has no sharps or flats) you should use the A MINOR pentatonic to solo (A MINOR also has no sharps or flats). The example you used, G MAJOR has one sharp (F#), it's relative minor is E MINOR. The relative minor is either a MAJOR 6 or MINOR 3 below the MAJOR key root
    Chokenhold
    I have never did any soloing before. Two days ago a teacher in my new scool asked me to solo (Im in a musicscool, so we were playing). It didnt went out that well. So I desided to practise soloing this weekend, and this lesson really helped me. Thank you!
    SaiNt adEL #13
    i used this a while ago and just forgot to comment. it really helped. as i used i noticed that alot of songs use it. it's really been helpful. thx.
    lapy94
    great, but if you want more variety in ur solos, learn the other maj/min pent shapes as well as arpeggios. great start here though!
    joebow
    most helpfull im a rhythm guitarist dont do poncey stuff do now though . cheers then
    griff nasty
    pretty f'n cool, man. i already knew this... just never knew what it was called. thanks.
    scooterman
    Before you can solo in multiple keys you have to know how to solo in one key, thanks for letting me know how too!
    gothic_saint
    i wont say soloing with one scale is so boring !!! u can do use relative notes of the scale !! for instance if ur chord progression is on c,f,g u can just solo on c and probably make quite a statement !!
    R2K
    There are 5 position from where Minor Pentatonic Scale can start. I know that first is E (6)string on 5-th fret, Second position is 8-th fret and so on... and the pattern is different. This - is the First combination - e|-----5-8-| B|-----5-8-----| And then G|-----5-7-----| repeat back D|-----5-7-----| the other way. A|-----5-7-----| E|-5-8-----| and it is looking good. - others, I'm sure that they are correct, but are not original parts of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale. Any how - good lesson! You have 10 from me. Regards, R2K
    kwikfingers-uk
    instead of thinking of and using this as just E minor penta...add the 2 extra notes to the scale and expand it to the natural minor (or Aeolian mode from the parent key of G major) this will open up a whole new set of idea's and options to your playing!
    sanderson1992
    fair enough that this is pointless. but for a relative beginner this is a great place to start!! well done mate
    Jlambertguitar
    if u know this its pointless.. if u know this.. why are you here? this is quite a good lesson i dont understand the theory side of music so much but i'm really trying to learn n thnx for helpin
    HarvesterofPain
    I'm gonna go 8/10. I think a few more positions would be helpful. Definitely a good pentatonic foundation.
    Freesmalta
    i dont know a shi. on scales and soloing...but i hope that according to this lesson,the last lick is in the key of B?
    Veroth
    this is an amazing lesson for a beginner, not a lot of terminology but just enough to ge them familiar with it, and it has some easy licks that sound awesome. i remember when i first started to solo and i would run through the minor pentatonic as fast as i possibly could and i could honestly say its only been helpful. so i commend you 10/10
    djbungo
    Yes this is basics, but that's who i'm guessing it's aimed at. Why are there so many people out there who think that to be 'good' at playing the guitar you need to be able to play faster and over more scales than anyone else? Anyone can learn scales but it is about composition, feel and tone. You can play around on this scale for quite a while but using magination and feel rather than speed and more scales. It's not for everyone, but people need to stop being so close minded simply because it isn't 'their chosen musical taste'. Great lesson for all beginners out there!
    tom1thomas1
    its pretty sad if you cant get from E to E and back in 5 seconds I've been playing this scale for a couple of weeks and I just timed myself took 3 seconds.