Pentatonic Scale – The Essential Guide

Learning the intervals of the major pentatonic scale

Just like our major pentatonic scale, each of the notes in a major pentatonic have a specific interval relation with the root note.

Here’s what the intervals in a major pentatonic are :

  • The Root
  • The Major Second
  • The Major Third
  • The Perfect Fifth
  • The Major Sixth

Can you see how these intervals are different from the minor pentatonic scale? This is because this time, we’re dealing with a major pentatonic scale.

The blueprint of this scale is ALWAYS going to be the same. Whatever key we’re in, we’ll ALWAYS be playing these intervals. 

pentatonic scale

The notes of a major pentatonic scale

Let’s learn this scale in the key of G major.

The notes in a G major pentatonic are :

  • G – Root
  • A – Major Second
  • B – Major Third
  • D – Perfect Fifth
  • E – Major Sixth

Here’s what those notes look like ALL over the fret board.

G Major Pentatonic – Full Fretboard

G Major Pentatonic Scale

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.

Other types of major and minor scales

In music, there are hundreds of different scales.

However, your core fundamental scales are :

  • The Major Scale
  • The Minor Scale

These are what form the foundations of ALL music!

You might be wondering, hang on a minute. You’ve been going on about pentatonic scales for the last 20 minutes, what on earth are major and minor scales?

  • Major and minor scales and pentatonic scales are the SAME thing.
  • Pentatonic scales come from major and minor scales.

I like to think of major and minor scales as the ‘parent scales’, where as pentatonic scales are the younger, cooler version of these scales.

  • The pentatonic scale has 5 notes.

Where as the major and minor scales have 8 notes. These are larger versions of your pentatonic scales.

  • The Major Scale = The Major Pentatonic.
  • The Minor Scale = The Minor Pentatonic.

Let’s compare between the two.

The Major Scale

For this example, let’s use the key of G.

In a G major scale the notes are :

  • G
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F#

Here there are 7 notes.

In a pentatonic scale, we only use 5 notes.

pentatonic scale

The G Major Pentatonic

Let’s take a look at what notes are in the G major pentatonic.

  • G
  • A
  • B
  • D
  • E

Can you see how these notes are taken from the G major scale? (The ‘parent’ scale?)

Let’s try this with the minor scale.

guitar scale

The Minor Scale

For this scale, we’re going to use the key of E minor. Let’s take a look at what notes are in the E minor scale.

  • E
  • F#
  • G
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D

Just like our major scale, there are 7 notes here.

Let’s compare it to the minor pentatonic scale.

The Minor Pentatonic

The notes in a E minor pentatonic are :

  • E
  • G
  • A
  • B
  • D

Just like our major scale, these notes are also in the minor scale.

If you’d like to know more about guitar scales, go here: Learn Guitar Scales In 8 Easy Steps

Why would you need to know the pentatonic scale?

Pentatonic scales are really useful to know.

Scales are what help you to create music, they give you the fundamentals to:

  • To help your technique.
  • To help you learn faster.

They are incredibly useful. For most lead guitarists, this is the DNA of playing lead guitar.

girl with guitar

How to play and practice your scale technique

One of the best ways to practice guitar technique is to use guitar scales. Pentatonic scales have the advantage over other scales, as they’re naturally much shorter.

This means you can practice your technique in a far more efficient way.

Quick tips for improving your technique

Play ALL your scales SLOWLY.

All students do this… They learn a cool pattern or lick and the first thing they do is try and practice as fast as they can.

This is NOT helpful for developing guitar technique.

One more time: This is NOT helpful for developing guitar technique.

Playing slowly and getting it RIGHT is the most efficient way to build muscle memory and embed the scale pattern into your playing.

Practice your scales to a metronome.

This is a great way of practicing your technique and your timing. Make sure that when you practice your scales you play each note on each click on the metronome.

Here’s a handy metronome site, if you don’t already use one: Metronome online

Alternatively you could download a metronome app on your phone or tablet.

pentatonic scale

When you play scales fast, here’s what happens

  • You don’t learn the scale properly.

If you try to play the scale as fast as you can, your hands can’t process how to play the scale.

As a result of this, it takes you longer to remember the scale.

  • You develop bad technique.

If you’re going super fast, you don’t give yourself the chance to make sure you’re playing each part correctly. Take your time.

Here’s what happens when you practice scales slowly

  • You remember scales faster.
  • Your technique becomes better.
  • You become a better guitarist.

One last time: Practice slowly. 🙂

pentatonic scale

When would you need to know the pentatonic scale?

One of the main uses of the pentatonic scale is to either improvise or to create melodies.

Without the knowledge of these scales, it’s almost impossible to create music.

Here are a couple of musical situations when knowing the pentatonic scale would come in handy :

At a jam session

Let’s say you go to your local jam session, or you regularly meet up with friends to play some guitar.

Having a good grasp of the pentatonic scale is so useful, as it instantly gives you something that you can use to improvise with.

Writing music in a band

Imagine, you’ve written an awesome song with the band that you’re in. But it needs something extra, a little sprinkle on the top.

Sometimes adding a melody in is a great way of adding interest to a song. Without the knowledge of pentatonic scales, it’s much harder to do this. You’re just fishing in the dark.

This is why it’s so fundamentally important to have a good grasp of these scales.

To understand musical theory

Scales form the foundation of chords and musical theory. Having a good understanding of scales helps you understand these elements.

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