E Minor Pentatonic Scale: The Ultimate Guide

The E minor pentatonic scale is a useful and fun guitar scale to know. (It’s the most widely-used scale for lead guitarists.)

E minor pentatonic scale

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 3 essential E minor pentatonic scale patterns.
  • 5 cool licks & flicks in E minor pentatonic that make you sound amazing.
  • How to tell when you can use the E minor pentatonic scale (in a way that musically ‘works’ and actually sounds good.)
  • 2 must-know secrets for solos.

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The classic E minor pentatonic scale pattern

This is the easiest way to play E minor pentatonic. (There are two pictures below. They show the same scale in tab and chordbox form.)

e-minor-pentatonic-scale-with-notation

 

E minor pentatonic (open position)

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

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5 cool licks and flicks in the E minor pentatonic scale

In this video Mike shares a few simple-but-awesome-sounding tips for riffing in the E minor pentatonic scale.

Moving it up to the 12th…

One of the cool things about this scale is we can play the same pattern on the 12th fret. (If we do this, we are still playing in E minor pentatonic, but in a higher octave.)

Here’s what this scale should sound like when you play it on the 12th fret:

When you play this scale on the 12th fret, make sure you use the following fingers:

  • 1st and 4th fingers on the low E string (6th string).
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the A string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the D string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the G string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the B string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the high E string (1st string).

2 Useful Tips

The E minor pentatonic scale is an abridged version of the E minor scale. The two scales are identical; the pentatonic version simply has two notes removed.

Wondering what a ‘pentatonic’ scale is? The origin of the word ‘pentatonic’ is Latin and simply means ‘5 notes’.

CHECKPOINT: We’re about to run through some more E minor pentatonic scales patterns. If you’re more interested in understanding HOW and WHEN to use this cool scale, then scroll down past the patterns and check out the practical tips and exercises in the lower half of this guide.

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

 

Listen to the Learn Guitar Podcast

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More E minor pentatonic scale patterns

We’ve covered the beginner stuff, so now let’s look at a few more advanced patterns of this awesome scale.

It’s important to mention that the root note isn’t the first note in ANY of these patterns. (The placement of the root note changes for each pattern.)

E minor pentatonic scale

You can find the root notes on the:

  • 2nd fret of the D string.
  • 5th fret of the B string.

Wondering why root notes are important?

Check out this lesson: How To Play Lead Guitar

Use the following fingers for each string:

  • 2nd and 4th on the low E string.
  • 1st and 4th on the A string.
  • 1st and 4th on the D string.
  • 1st and 3rd on the G string.
  • 2nd and 4th on the B string.
  • 2nd and 4th on the high E string.

Top Tip: Assigning 1 finger per fret is a great way of building individual finger strength and great technique.

E Minor Pentatonic Scale: Pattern 3

This shape is slightly difficult to get under the fingers, but once you have this pattern you will be able to unlock all kinds of pentatonic secrets.

E minor pentatonic scale

Pay attention to where the root notes are here:

  • 7th fret of the A string.
  • 5th fret of the B string.

For this pattern use the following fingers:

  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the E string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the A string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the D string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the G string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the B string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the high E string.

E Minor Pentatonic Scale: Pattern 4

This pattern is great for warming up those fingers and has a great musical quality to it, perfect if you want to spice up your playing.

pentatonic-4

The root notes for pattern 4 are on the:

  • 7th fret of the A string.
  • 9th fret of the G string.

Use these fingers for this pattern:

  • 1st and 4th fingers on the low E string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the A string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the D string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the G string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the B string. (Or if you prefer you can use fingers 2 and 4 instead. Experiment with this one!)
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the high E string!

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E Minor Pentatonic Scale: Pattern 5

This pattern is the trickiest of all as you have to use your little finger! However, once you get used to using the pinky you will be flying around the fretboard quickly.

pentatonic-5

The root notes for this pattern are on the:

  • 12th fret of the low E string.
  • 9th fret of the G string.
  • 12th fret of the high E string.

Use these fingers on this pattern:

  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the E string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the A string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the D string.
  • 1st and 4th fingers on the G string.
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the B string. (Try experimenting with your 2nd and 4th fingers here too.)
  • 1st and 3rd fingers on the high E string. (Have a go at using your 2nd and 4th fingers here. You may have a stronger preference here so use what feels best for you.) 

Feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t worry about learning all of these scale patterns!! Just pick one. These scale patterns are essential to know, eventually.

Remember there is no rush. You will be a much more musical guitarist if you focus on just one pattern and master it, than if you try to memorise them all rote.

The world is filled with guitarists who know scales. Very few of them are musical. Don’t just ‘learn the patterns’. Pick one pattern and focus all your energy on how and when to use it.

Learn one pattern and stick with it for at last a few months before you take on another one.

The full E minor pentatonic scale – All 5 patterns

Here are the 5 E minor pentatonic patterns laid across the whole guitar neck. (Root notes are highlighted in blue.)

E minor pentatonic scale

And here’s the tab…

E minor pentatonic scale

How do I make these patterns sound musical?

A great place to start is our epic ultimate lead guitar guide: How To Play Lead Guitar

An awesome and fun way to spice things up (and feel like a guitar hero) is to use a diagonal pattern.

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GUITAR HERO TIME! E Minor Pentatonic Scale ‘Primary Diagonal’

This ‘run’ across the neck skips between 3 patterns.

diagonal-pentatonic-pattern

Try and move through this pattern by just using your 1st and 3rd fingers, it’s important to develop fluidity on the fret board.

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

 

Listen to the Learn Guitar Podcast

Learn from the world's best guitar teachers: Listen to the Learn Guitar Podcast now

Now we’ve learned the scale patterns of the E minor pentatonic scale, let’s check out when & how we can use it…

When can you use the E minor pentatonic scale?

You can play the E minor pentatonic scale over the following musical keys and it will sounds great.

  • E Minor
  • G Major
  • E Major (For a bluesy feel)
  • A blues in the key of E

This works well because the E minor pentatonic scale includes notes that are also in these keys.

This isn’t a theory lesson, so we won’t go into this in detail here. If you want to learn more about guitar theory check out this lesson: www.nationalguitaracademy.com/guitar-theory/

So how do I improvise with this scale?

If you want to improvise with the E minor pentatonic scale, you can use ANY of the keys shown above with this scale and it will sound great.

Do you understand keys?

To play lead guitar of any kind, it’s essential that you can work out the key of a song.

To work out the key of any song, simply look at the song’s first and last chords.

A musical key is a group of scales and chords which work together.

People often use the terms ‘key’ and ‘scale’ in the same way. The two words are used almost interchangeably.

The key of E minor is often described as the scale of E minor. And vice versa.

Same goes for major keys too.

The E major key comes from the scale of E major. And vice versa.

How do I work out a musical key?

There’s a really simple way to work out the key to a song.

Here’s what you do:

Check the first and last chord of the song.

Let’s take a look at a quick example. Here’s a classic chord progression:

E major   |G# minor  |B major  |E major |

What key is this chord progression in?

As you can tell from this progression.

The first and last chords are E major.

Therefore, the key of this progression is in the key of E major.

Easy right?

Let’s try another chord progression.

E minor  |B minor |A minor |E minor

So the first and last chords in this progression are E minor. Therefore, the key of this chord progression is in the key of E minor.

You can do this method for ANY key, you just have to check the first and last chord.

To learn more about musical keys check out these two articles

E minor pentatonic scale

Okay, I understand what a musical key is, but how do I use these scales to solo?!

There are two main tips which you can use to help you become God of Solo.

  1. Play the root notes of the scale.
  2. Learn guitar licks.

Tip#1: Targeting Root Notes

Root notes are a fantastic way of sounding awesome. You may find when you play the E minor pentatonic scale, some notes sound better than others.

When you solo, it’s vital that you target the root note. This is your hero note! You will NEVER sound bad when you play the root note. It ALWAYS sounds fantastic.

What’s a root note?

The root note is the first note in a scale or chord.

So for example, the notes in a E minor pentatonic scale are:

1. E

2. G

3. A

4. B

5. D

Therefore, the root note is…yep you guessed it, E!

Let’s try it with a chord, here are the notes for a G minor chord:

1. G

2. Bb

3. D

Therefore the root note in a G minor chord, is G.

Finding The Root Note In a Scale

Usually the root note is the VERY first note that you play.

For example, if you play the 1st pattern of the E minor pentatonic scale, this starts on the root note. (This is either the open E string or the 12th fret of the low E string, depending on which octave you play it in)

However, for the rest of the patterns the root note ISN’T the first note in the scale.

With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of where the E root notes are.

Here’s a diagram of all of the notes in a E minor pentatonic scale, the root notes are highlighted in blue:

From this, you can tell that there are E root notes on the:

  • The low and high E string.
  • The 12th fret of the low and high E string.
  • The 7th and 19th fret of the A string.
  • The 2nd and 14th fret of the D string.
  • The 9th fret of the G string.
  • The 5th and 17th fret of the B string.

When you solo, make sure you target these notes! It’s the quickest way to sounding awesome.

Tip#2: Learn Guitar Licks

Guitar licks are a quick and easy way of sounding amazing.

What’s a guitar lick?

A lick is a small musical phrase which you can use when improvising.

Think of it like this, if you’ve ever gone abroad you may have learnt a phrase in another language which will help you communicate with others.

A lick, is the musical equivalent of learning a language phrase. Licks are designed to help you get the sound of the scale in your head.

Generating your own improvisational ideas can be difficult, learning licks helps with this. They allow you to improvise quicker!

In this video, Mike will show you 5 cool licks and flicks which use the E minor pentatonic scale.

Once you’ve learned some cool licks and flicks you can try them over a backing track.

Here’s an awesome backing track which you can use these ideas over:

Do you like guitar solos? Here are 50 of the greatest guitar solos by Guitar World: 50 Greatest Guitar Solos

Want more licks?

You’re want more? You got it!

Lick #1: The Country One

This lick is perfect for country styles and uses the open E minor pentatonic scale!

Here’s the tab:

Watch this video to learn how to play this lick:

Lick #2: The Rock Lick

This one is fast, so make sure you practice this one slowly.

Here’s the tab:

pentatonic-lick-1

Here’s how it should sound:

Lick #3: The Blues Lick

This one has a great bluesy feel, play this lick with feeling and soul!

pentatonic-lick-2

Here’s how it should sound:

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

Join over 30,000 other guitar learners and subscribe to our guitar-tips-by-email service. (It's free.)

We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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