Pentatonic Scales.

Pentatonic scales are wonderful things. No really they are. Firstly the name alone is cool.. Pent a tonic. Almost sounds like some cool cocktail all the hip dudes drink. “Make mine a Penta Tonic with plenty of rocks.”

So what is it?  Well lets look at the name again.. Penta  meaning five, and tonic meaning tones or notes.  So 5 notes. A 5 note scale. 5 whole notes of deep joy and sexiness.

This is the type of scale that most guitarists start with, for a couple of reasons, firstly, it pretty easy to remember and play the fingering, and it sounds damn good.

Lets examine the minor pentatonic first, why? Cos I said so and I’m writing this.  Most guitar players through the ages have started on the minor pentatonic and it hasn’t hurt or stopped them at all.  In this instance I have put the scale in the key of A , because it’s alphabetically the first and I reckon you might know a 12 bar in A and if you don’t you soon will. An once you do you can join Status Quo.  ( Hides from Quo fans ).

The notes are A C D E G.  Of these 5 notes 4 of them create an A minor 7 chord.  A C E G.  So if we were to play an A minor pentatonic scale over the top of an A minor 7 chord well 4/5 of the notes would be excellent choices.  They would be excellent choices because you can’t really play better notes over a chord than the notes that are in it.  They are as safe as they can be, a notes that is in the chord can’t clash with the chord.   So what we have is a very safe scale. The pattern is pretty straight forward to learn in the shape most people learn to begin with.  Requiring essentially 2 fingers on each string and plenty of potential for bending.  So this is the minor pentatonic.  There are others…

Well there has to be, we have 12 different notes available and many combinations of 5 can be made from those 12, so lets have a look at a few of these.  There are some corking names coming as well.

Next point of call is the A Major Pentatonic scale.  This has a different set of notes from A minor, it has to otherwise why would it have a different name or need to exist?   A B C# E F#.  This gives us an A major chord A C# E.   Again, we can play the notes in the chord and they will sound spot on.   Can you spot a thread running here?

Just a little point at this time… all of these scales you need to play. You need to hear them and then hear them in context.

So play over an A minor chord with the minor pentatonic and an A Major chord for the Major Pentatonic.

Next up something you might not have come across. The Egyptian pentatonic scale.  What is the formula here?  1 2 4 5 b7 .  So neither major or minor, more of a suspended dominant 7 kind of sound.   So find a chord with a b7 and see how this sounds against it.  I like this scale, as it brings some nice extensions to the party and works in a few contexts as it is a bit ambiguous.  To my mind I don’t hear anything Egyptian at all, but you might..

Next please… Man Gong pentatonic scale, yup told ya the names would get good.  You know the drill.. what’s the formula here?  1 b3 4 b6 b7 .  Cool so… is it major or minor? I hope you said minor or I shall have to make you listen to me singing for a week…  No 5th so this could work with min7 b5 chords as well.  Try it.. have a listen. Explore.

Who fancies a Kumoi scale?  Easy on the chilli’s you say?  Something like that.. Formula please nurse..  1 2 b3 5 b6. Well this is a fun one, essentially minor with a 9 or a flat 13 lobbed in.  So you know the drill.. PLAY IT!


I’ve popped 2 more scales on the diagram for you to explore, the Indian Pentatonic and the Ritusen scale.  You know what to do now, explore these, have a listen, hear what you can, discover what you think and feel about them.  These offer something different to just major or minor pentatonics but still you are only playing 5 different notes.


The joy of only having 5 different notes are you aren’t continually trying to remember lots of notes, although 7 isn’t really that many more is it?


Enjoy and feel free to ask as many questions as you like…





~ by Geoff Lea Guitar on February 20, 2012.

3 Responses to “Pentatonic Scales.”

  1. Nice blog with lots of stuff info. What s/w do you use to do these charts? thanks

  2. Reblogged this on Geoffleaguitar's Blog.

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