Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another lesson with Tony G I’m your host Tony G and today we’re going to be talking about the pentatonic scale which is super easy to play and it’s really resourceful.
It’s not the end-all be-all when you go to write your own solo lick or melody but it can really give you a great place to start so we’re going to take a look at how to play it.
Afterward, I’m going to give you some exercises that are really great for you to use to be able to practice it and learn it anywhere on the neck so that way no matter what key you’re trying to play in, you’ll be ready.
Alright let’s go ahead and jump right in!
The A Minor Pentatonic Scale
First and foremost, the minor pentatonic scale is very simple and it’s very easy to remember. There are only two notes per string and in fact there’s only five notes total that we’re playing.
Even though we’re playing two notes per string and 2 x 6 = 12, only five of those notes are unique and the other 7 are just the same five notes in different octaves.
Here is the number one pattern that you’ll need to know. I’m going to be playing it in fifth position which is in the key of A minor.
Here we go!
I’m going to play my first finger on the fifth fret of the sixth string then it’s followed by my pinky finger on the eighth fret.
Fret Numbers vs Finger Numbers
However, I don’t want you to pay too much attention to the fret numbers. I want you to pay attention to which fingers we’re using. So let’s rephrase that so the first note on the six string uses first finger then fourth finger.
The next string we’re going to use the first finger then the third finger and we’re only staying in one position here.
Excellent! The next string is also fingers one and three. The next string is also fingers one and three. It’s a pretty easy pattern to memorize so far, right?
Okay here we go let’s play those first four strings.
Can you feel the energy behind this scale? It is so great! I love it and I’m going to tell you why a little bit later on, so make sure you read this whole lesson!
Okay now on our second string we’re going to go back to the same fingering as our sixth string. We’re going to go back to fingers one and four on the second string.
And then we’re going to finish it off with fingers one and four.
Guitar E Strings: The Same Notes
A really safe bet when you’re playing scales is that more often than not, you’re going to play the same thing on your sixth string as you do on the first string because they’re both E strings right?
In the pentatonic modes that’s going to be a recurring theme so just something for you to pay attention to.
Ok, go ahead and run that whole entire scale one more time starting on our sixth string fifth position fingers 1 & 4 to start. Here are the fingers we use as we go down the line: 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4, 1-4.
Playing the Scale in a Descending Order
You can also play it in descending order. What we just played was in an ascending order because we started from a lower pitch and we went higher which means ascending just like climbing a mountain.
You can also play in descending order which means we’re going to start at the top pitch or the top of the mountain and work our way down the mountain in a descending manner.
We can start with our fourth finger on the first string and we can just go ahead and play down.
So we’ll play fingers 4-1, 4-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-1 and 4-1.
Okay now that we’ve walked down that minor pentatonic pattern, let’s learn some ways to practice it!
How to Practice Pentatonic Scale on Guitar: Position Switching
One of the easiest ways to practice the minor pentatonic pattern is just to move it in different positions. We were just playing in fifth position but let’s go ahead and move it down to second position.
It’s the exact same fingerings that we were using before but now we’re just going to be basing it off of 2nd fret instead of off of 5th fret.
Here we are on the 2nd fret and the fingers remain the same. Let’s play fingers 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4, 1-4.
Then we can play in a descending order as well! 4-1, 4-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-1 and 4-1. So again, the scale shape/pattern is exactly the same no matter where we put it on the neck.
That’s one of the brilliant things about guitar is that it’s such a pattern based instrument that we can definitely find all these different patterns and play them in different keys.
It’s a little bit of a blessing and a little bit of a curse but we’re going to find out about that a little bit later on, so make sure you stick around!
Let’s check out some other ways to practice the scale!
How to Practice Pentatonic Scale on Guitar: Backwards Patterns
A really fun way to practice this scale is by playing what I call, “backwards patterns.”
Backwards patterns are pretty cool! All we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be playing each string in the reverse order. For example from the sixth string to the first string, instead of playing 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, etc, I’m going to play 4-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-1.
This is kind of interesting because overall we’re still ascending, we’re still going up in pitch, but each string descends. Each starts at the high note and then drops to the lower note.
Overall our pitches are ascending but we’re kind of going up, down, up, down, so we’re kind of going through a little bit of a wave.
We can do the exact same thing from first string to sixth string! Instead of playing 4-1, 4-1, 3-1, etc, we’re going to play 1-4, 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4.
“Why are we practicing in this way?” you might be asking. “What the heck are you doing, Tony g?! Why aren’t we doing it the regular way?!”
I’m going to tell you why!
Guitar Practice Routines
Number one, because we never want to get into the habit of only playing a scale one way. If you get into the habit of always playing a minor pentatonic scale like this, then what are your licks and solos going to sound like?
Your lick is going to sound kind of boring because it’s just going to be moving in that stepladder pattern. You’re only going to be moving to adjacent notes and not going to be skipping around.
It’s a lot of fun to try to throw in a little bit of variety even if I just play two strings right next to each other. If I play the fourth string in an ascending manner and then I play the next string in a descending manner, that’s already added so much flavor.
Compare that to just playing them all in an ascending manner. Ascending on both strings can sound pretty cool, but we want to add variety to our solos.
The way you practice is definitely going to be the way that you write. If you’re trying to write a solo or a lick, you really need to try to vary up the way that you practice the minor pentatonic scale.
Pentatonic Modes with Justin Guitar
There are four other pentatonic scales to go along with it but don’t worry, that’s down the road. Let’s just start with this one and master it first. If you want a quick overview, Justin Guitar has a fantastic video on all of the modes right here.
Recap: Ways to Practice A Minor Pentatonic Scale on Guitar
So again let’s recap on some of those ways to practice this. We can move it to any different position and play it. We can also play it with the backwards patterns in any position.
I’m moving around the positions that I’m playing it in to get my fingers used to the shape. And now I’m also changing the way that I play the scale. I don’t want to just play it straight through because again, when you go to write a lick, a solo or a melody, it will reflect on the way that you practice your scales.
Restricting Guitar Strings That You Play
Another really cool way to change it up a little bit is to play specific strings of the scale. For example let’s make it easy on us this time. Let’s play strings six through two and ignore the first string.
Not too bad, right? That’s pretty easy but what if we were to play strings five to one? Are you comfortable starting on the fifth string? Or are you thinking, “okay well sixth string we play 1-4 so this means 1-3 on the 5th string”?
If you’re thinking about it that way, that’s one step too many. We want to get you to the point where you just think, “fifth string? No problem! Fingers 1-3.”
Knowing that immediately is where we want to get to because we’re not going to start every single solo on the first note of the scale. That’s not a good thing to do either because then it’s always going to sound the same.
Now let’s play strings five through one starting with fingers 1-3.
That’s not too bad. How about strings five through two? It’s really going to help you to really memorize the shape and memorize the pattern in your mind.
Being able to know any note on any string at any time is going to really help you out when you’re adding variety to your solos, licks and melodies.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale: Blessing and a Curse
Just before I let you go, let’s talk about why the minor pentatonic scale on the guitar is both a blessing and a curse.
Number one, let’s talk about the blessing.
“Hey Tony! Guess what?! We’re playing a song in A blues. Write me a little lick!”
It’s easy enough to write a little lick in the minor pentatonic scale in A. Now if they say, “actually, we’re not going to play in A blues anymore, we’re going to play that in G blues.”
Then you play in G blues and you’re just soloing and you’re kicking butt and you can have a good time. Then at the end of that they say, “okay so guess what? Now we’re going to be playing a song in B blues.”
You would say, “no problem! I can do that!” You’re going to set up in the B positioning here but now when they start jamming you find yourself playing the same patterns over and over again…
That’s a little bit of the blessing AND the curse. The pentatonic scale is really easy to move around anywhere you want to but it’s also really easy to fall into the same patterns no matter what key you’re in.
Solo after solo, lick after lick, you might hear a lot of repetition. You might hear a lot of the exact same things over and over.
So, I challenge you to really try different ways of practicing this scale because that way you might find some really cool variety to add in when you’re writing a lick, a solo or a melody.
How to Write a Solo, Lick or Melody eBook
For more information about how to Write a Lick, a Solo or a Melody, check out my book by clicking on that link! The book is all about what we just talked about but it takes it to a further degree.
It teaches you so much more information about different ways to practice the scales, how to change our rhythm and timing, how to approach phrasing and how to even use target notes that you want to end on so you can work backwards to write a lick.
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