In this series of articles, I’m going to show you how to play the pentatonic scale on the guitar bit by bit together with some tips and tricks along the way.
I’m going to show you how to play the scale, how to practice it and by the end of the series, how to play the pentatonic scale all over the neck of your guitar – in a connected way.
This last point is important – too often, guitarists are shown “positions” for playing something, but are pretty much left to work out how to use them and how to join them up so the playing sounds fluid and dynamic.
I’m going to use guitar tab as well as videos to show you this, so if you are not familiar with guitar tablature you might want to check out my post on How to Read Guitar Tab or you can watch the videos carefully to see the fretting positions – or both – whatever your preference!
If you are left handed, you might want to check my article on Left Handed Guitar Tabs as well.
You’ll notice I haven’t said minor pentatonic, nor have I said major pentatonic and you’ll see why shortly because you can play the same notes, you just have to use your ears – read on!
Pentatonic = five notes – guess what, there’s only 5 notes in the scale!
And so, without further waffle, let’s dive in and see the first way to play the wonderful, all-conquering, amazing pentatonic scale.
The First Piece of the Jigsaw
Here is the first tab and video.
This is the pentatonic scale first position that just about every guitarist learns and is often referred to as “position 1”.
Again, nearly everyone first learns this around the 5th fret so why break with tradition?
This is in fact the A minor pentatonic scale, this means you can play this scale over any A minor chord as I have demonstrated in the video below.
I’m not going to go into how to pick the notes very much here, that is a massive topic in itself. What I will say though, is I would strongly advise not to start this doing all down strokes with the pick (always picking towards the floor). Try to use up strokes with the pick as well, preferably alternating as this is the best habit to form at this stage.
When I first started playing guitar, no-one told me this, and I did all down picks for a couple of years – it set me back quite a long way in terms of ability to play smoothly and fast (not that I’m fast, but with all down strokes with the pick it would be very difficult!)
Please also avoid just running up and down the scale, you’ll very rarely want to actually play it this way; try picking different notes even those that don’t fall naturally under the fingers.
2 very important aspects to understand here:
- getting the actual shape fixed in your mind so you don’t need to think about where the notes are;
- listen to how the notes fit over the chord as you’ll get the best sounds that way and you’ll be able to play what your musicality wants, not what your fingers want.
But I Thought You Said I’d learn Major and Minor Scales?
So I did, thanks for reminding me!
Ok then, watch this:
The same notes, but when played in a different context, I.E., over a C major chord instead of an A minor, it changes the sound completely! Amazing huh?
|AMTA| (Al’s music theory alert) – Actually, A minor is called the “relative minor” of C major and that is why this works and the two key signatures are so similar in notes, but completely different in “context” or sound. In fact, were we to play all the notes in the C major scale, you would have A minor (or one form of A minor) known as Aeolian mode.
Let’s Top and Tail It – Extended Pentatonic Scale in First Position
I’m going to take a different approach to extending the pentatonic scale as I truly believe it helps in learning the full potential of this incredible scale and makes transitions sound very natural.
You se, the traditional approach would now have you learn the second, third and fourth positions of the pentatonic scale, but very rarely does it show you how they join together and more importantly, the sorts of sounds you can get.
I will show you these other positions in time, but not yet, let’s see the first part of opening up the possibilities.
Here is the next tab:
And here is the video demonstration with some neat tips:
Really important – there are some notes that were on the previous tab that aren’t on this one, but you can and should incorporate them into your experiments and practice with the pentatonic scale.
To be clear, I’m referring to:
- 8th fret thick E string;
- 5th fret B string;
- 5th fret thin E string.
As I have shown in the video above, these can be incorporated into your licks and it is that blending of different ways of playing the same scale that starts to generate all the great sounds and give you the freedom to move all over the neck of the guitar.
Alright, so now you have learnt the first position of the pentatonic scale, how it can be minor or major depending on context; you also have the first little extensions and glimpses into what comes next!
I suggest that you don’t rush on with learning more until what you have here is really engrained and you can play it without thinking and you can make it sound musical.
Practice playing different sequences of notes and listen to what works and what doesn’t over the chords.
It would be beneficial to start learning the names of the notes you are playing as well, but don’t worry too much, we’ll cover that more later on.
I have put links below to the very simple A minor and C major backing tracks I was using so you can use these for your practice and enjoyment as long and as often as you choose! I know they are not the best quality, but they are more interesting than a plain old metronome and give context to the way you will play the scale.
I really hope this has helped you out and you’ve enjoyed part 1 of the how to play the pentatonic scale on the guitar series. Check back regularly for further articles in this and many other topics.
We have covered the pentatonic scale first position as well as the extended pentatonic scale in first position – I will take the same approach in future lessons so please do tell me if this works for you.
I absolutely welcome questions and comments, so please let me know in the comments section and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
All the best and keep on rockin’