Updated date:

How to Play the Pentatonic Scale on Guitar • Five Patterns, Solos, Melodies, Video Guitar Lessons

As a guitar, electric bass, ukulele instructor at Long & McQuades, I have taught countless musicians how to play or improve their chops.

The Five Box Patterns

blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale

Theory

The Pentatonic scale is simply a Major scale with 2 notes missing. These 2 notes are the 4th and 7th degrees (the two half-steps) of the Major scale.


Because the 4th and 7th degrees are commonly used as passing tones, omitting these notes makes the Major scale more adaptable. The Pentatonic scale simply sounds better over many chord progressions.

C MajorC Major Pentatonic

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1 2 3 5 6 8

C D E F G A B C

C D E G A C

C Major - Am to C Major - Am Pentatonic Scale Comparison

blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale

The Pentatonic Scale verses the Major Scale

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Is there less notes in the Major scale, compared to the Pentatonic?
    • Yes
    • No
  2. How many notes comprise the Major Scale?
    • 4
    • 8
    • 7
  3. How many notes comprise the Pentatonic Scale?
    • 6
    • 5
    • 9
  4. What is one of the two intervals missing from the Major scale, to form the Pentatonic scale?
    • 3rd
    • 2nd
    • 7th
    • 5th
  5. What is the other interval, that is missing from the Major scale?
    • 3rd
    • 4th
    • 6th
    • 2nd
  6. What is the relative minor Pentatonic scale to C Major Pentatonic??
    • Gm
    • Dm
    • Bm
    • Am

Answer Key

  1. No
  2. 7
  3. 5
  4. 7th
  5. 4th
  6. Am

The Major Pentatonic scale has a sweet sound,while the Minor Pentatonic scale has a darker, bluesy sound, but the fingering patterns for both scales are exactly the same. Therefore, when you learn a Major Pentatonic scale, you are also learning a Minor Pentatonic scale. The Pentatonic scale is usually the first scale that guitar players learn for improvisation purposes. Many rock and classic rock guitarists use the Pentatonic scale exclusively.


The Box Patterns

Here are the five box patterns of the G Major - E minor Pentatonic scale. The five note G Major Pentatonic is spelled: G A B D E (octave G). The five note E minor Pentatonic scale is spelled: E G A B D (octave E). The name 'box patterns' comes from their rectangle shape. When playing these patterns, try not to shift your hand. Stretch the fingers to cover the four frets. With the proper hand position, this will become easier. Place your thumb in the middle of your fret hand at the back of the neck, and keep your thumb down.


Box Pattern 1

Scale spelling: E G A B D E G A B D E G

This is most played of all the box patterns. This pattern starts on root E and has a mean, dark minor sound, perfect for blues, rock and any other genre. For most guitarists, this is the home base scale when improvising. Watch any player, and you will see them working in this pattern more than any other. Many standard licks come from this box. The king daddy of all box patterns!

Fingering

Fingering

Notes

Notes

Box Pattern 2

Scale spelling: G A B D E G A B D E G A

This pattern starts on the second note of the first pattern, and is simply the same five notes repeated, in a different order. Even though these are the same notes as the first box, it has a sweet, happy sound, because of the different starting note (G). This position is the basis of country soloing. If you want to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try this alternate fingering: 2 4 1 4 1 4 1 3 2 4 2 4.


Fingering

Fingering

Notes

Notes

This is the solo from The One I Love by REM. Based entirely in Em Pentatonic, it moves back and forth between box pattern 1 and 2. The chord movement lends a different sound to the scale in the first four measures, then returns to a more normal minor pentatonic sound for the last four measures. The chords being played under a melody line can alter the sound of the scale drastically. One of the magical properties of the chord-scale relationship!

The One I Love • Solo

blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale

Solo For The One I Love • REM

The Official Video

Box Pattern 3

Scale spelling: A B D E G A B D E G A B

This pattern starts on the second note of the second pattern. Many riffs come out of the first six notes, simply because they are so easy to play. You may have to shift your hand slightly to pick up the B on the third string, fourth fret.


Fingering

Fingering

Notes

Notes

Box Pattern 4

Scale spelling: B D E G A B D E G A B D

This pattern starts on the second note of the third pattern. If you want to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try this alternate fingering: 1 4 1 4 1 3 1 3 2 4 1 4.

Fingering

Fingering

Notes

Notes

Box Pattern 5

Scale spelling: D E G A B D E G A B D E

The last pattern starts on the second note of the fourth pattern. It is very easy to visualize this scale. Once again, to keep the fret hand fingers in one position, try the alternate fingering: 2 4 2 4 1 4 1 4 2 4 2 4


Fingering

Fingering

Fingering

Notes

Notes

Heart Of Gold Melody

blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale

Heart Of Gold

Em Pentatonic Along The Fretboard

Once the box patterns have been mastered, try moving through the patterns along the fretboard. The fret hand fingers are written above the notes. When ascending this extended scale, the third finger is leading, that is, most of the shifts from pattern to pattern are performed with the third finger. When descending, the first finger is leading. This is a three octave scale. When playing in position, all of the scales are two octaves.

blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale
blues-basics-the-mighty-pentatonic-scale

Comments

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on January 21, 2019:

Thanks so much Ian!

Ian on January 21, 2019:

Great reference work. I have been using it as a visual aid to practice pentatonic scales in all 5 patterns.

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on July 16, 2014:

Thank you Jason for the feedback. Much appreciated!

Jason Sams on July 15, 2014:

This is quite thorough, well-written, and substantive. I certainly appreciate your examples and attention to detail.

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on February 15, 2012:

Thanks very much for the feedback!

jcamp19141@gmail.com on February 15, 2012:

Thanks very helpful and informative. Thank you so much.

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on November 12, 2011:

Thanks very much, Lucy!

Bonny OBrien from Troy, N.Y. on November 11, 2011:

Great hub. Very imformative. Voted up.

Related Articles