A brief introduction to the pentatonic scale
Firstly, the pentatonic scale is a five note scale that comes from the Greek word pente.
The tonic refers to the first note of the key. So if we play in G minor, the tonic would be G!
We have five notes (per octave) with no semitones between them in the pentatonic scale. (Referring to the standard minor pentatonic scale here)
It is a sort of wonder scale!
It’s one of those scales, that you can simply use on almost anything and it just sounds wonderful!
We also find it in a huge amount of musical styles including African, jazz, blues, Chinese, Hungarian folk, impressionistic, rock, metal, fusion, pop, soul and other styles.
It’s just a marvellous scale to use and it is imperative that you master the pentatonic scale!
It will be a major milestone in your guitar development.
Why is the pentatonic scale so hugely popular with guitarists?
To answer this question properly, we have to take a look at the construction of the guitar.
The guitar is an instrument that offers a degree of symmetry. (Due to the tuning being PRIMARILY in perfect fourths)
If you play a pattern in one key you can simply play the exact same pattern in another key and the pattern will not change.
As long as the notes stay on the same set of strings.
That is simply awesome!
The pentatonic scale, especially “position one” of the minor pentatonic scale is hugely popular among guitarists.
It’s wonderful because you have a very easy pattern that provides a platform for improvisation.
With only two notes per string, it creates a structure for great patterns and sequences that can be played over and over again.
Most rock guitar solos take place exclusively in the first position of the minor pentatonic scale.
(Think – Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ or Guns ‘n Roses ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ (sequence bits) or Gary Moore’s ‘Parisien Walkways’ – the fast bits in the middle)
The other positions offer a tremendous amount of beauty, but most guitarists tend to stick (almost exclusively) to the first position.
From a finger perspective, the “minor pentatonic scale position one” sits wonderfully just under the fingers.
You do not need to stretch very far and is very easy to reach all the notes.
It is definitely the most accessible scale to start improvising with.
It is therefore, vital that you do have an excellent grasp of the scale.
You also need to have a vast repertoire of licks to be ready for any improvisation opportunity that comes your way!
The importance of mastering the five positions of the pentatonic scale
The guitar works in five positions.
I know there has been various articles written about the fact that the five position system can “imprison you”, however I do simply not agree.
Of course one has to play across the guitar, sideways, on one string and in every imaginable way possible, but mastering the five positions of the guitar is absolutely essential in order to make great progress.
It is crucial in my opinion that you do not only focus on the first position.
You also need to explore positions 2 to 5.
In all my lessons with my students, I always ask them to memorise about five pentatonic/blues licks per position to get started.
After this task has been completed one can then learn how to play across a few positions of the pentatonic scale.
It is however, vital that you walk before you run, otherwise you could find yourself falling over again and again.
So definitely create a plan to master the pentatonic scale throughout the five positions.
You need to become an expert on the five positions of the pentatonic scale.
That can then lead to other things in the future, as the five positions of the guitar remain the five positions of the guitar regardless of what we play. (Yes we have 5 positions for EVERYTHING that we play on the guitar!)
It is also essential to not only see the patterns but also get to memorise the degrees of the scale across the guitar neck.
This will cost you lots of time and effort…
Pat Martino, a guitarist whom I hugely respect, has written a marvellous book for jazz guitar called ‘Linear Expressions’ (WARNING: not for the faint-hearted!)…
Pat Martino calls the five positions the “five activities” of the guitar…
He recommends building a repertoire of jazz licks across the five activities of the guitar.
It is exactly the same with the pentatonic scale.
Getting to know the five positions will free you and get you out of “musical prison” not into it!
(“Pat-martino” by Hreinn Gudlaugsson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pat-martino.jpg#/media/File:Pat-martino.jpg)
How to get started with the pentatonic scale
Everyone has to start somewhere.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned from one of my own mentors, was that the hardest part is to just get started.
Sometimes the very thing you trying to tackle looks like massive mountain in front of you.
The secret is not to look at the mountain, but at the daily task that you need to do to go forward.
There is a Russian proverb that says “little drops of water will wear out the rock”.
Doing the same thing day in and day out will bring you success!
One of my favourite investors, Warren Buffett built up vast amounts of wealth using the principle of compound interest and time. (Along with ferocious study of countless balance sheets and annual reports…)
He is the perfect example of what it means to be faithful. (He also started from the beginning with no money doing a paper route… and eventually he become the richest investor in the world)
In the same way with your guitar playing, you need to spend time every day repeating the same thing over and over and over again.
When you open your eyes again the mountain will START looking smaller.
Always have the end in mind, as that will keep the fire burning in your heart.
So to master the minor pentatonic scale across the entire neck requires a tremendous amount of time and courage.
Most guitarist will simply give up.
But, and this is BIG but – the reward will be yours if you do not give up!
Remember you can become as successful as you want to be – the choice is in your hands.
Think of your success like a tap.
You can open the tap and a little bit of water comes out, or you can open the tap very wide and a lot of water comes out.
Each strategy will require a different amount of effort.
To master the pentatonic across the neck will require a lot of time, effort and dedication.
It is up to you how long you want to take to do it.
But once again the most important part is just to get started.
I would always recommend starting at the very beginning.
Start with one of the positions of the guitar and get to know the position inside-out!
You can then move on to the next position and once you know about three pentatonic scale positions, do some revision and make sure you really know them.
Then you can add the other two. (Position 4 and 5 of the minor pentatonic scale)
Make sure you also learn HIGH-QUALITY pentatonic guitar licks in each and every position.
After that, you be surprised at just how well you know the neck.
You will then be prepared to improvise and make your guitar sing!
A list pentatonic scales in G minor for you to try:
The G minor 7/11 pentatonic scale AKA as the standard minor pentatonic scale position 1 – DEGREES: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7
The minor 6/9 pentatonic scale – DEGREES: 1, 2, b3, 5, 6
The major 6/9 pentatonic scale AKA as the major pentatonic scale position 1 – DEGREES: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
The major 7/9 pentatonic scale AKA major 7 add 9 arpeggio – DEGREES: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7
The minor 7/9 pentatonic scale AKA as minor 7 add 9 arpeggio – DEGREES: 1, 2, b3, 5, b7
The dominant 7/9 pentatonic scale AKA as dominant 7 add 9 arpeggio – DEGREES: 1, 2, 3, 5, b7
The min/maj 7/9 pentatonic scale AKA as min/maj 7 add 9 arpeggio – DEGREES: 1, 2, b3, 5, 7
Perfect for jazz!
The dominant 7/11 pentatonic scale – DEGREES: 1, 2, 4, 3, 5, b7 (MINOR PENTATONIC SCALE W/MAJ 3rd)
Notes that you can bend using a full step in the first position of the minor pentatonic scale (SG 146)
Knowing which notes you can bend into, can be invaluable.
A lot of guitarists simply bend a note and hope it works out.
It’s far more intelligent to study the map of the scale and physically “map” out the bendable notes. (See my diagram below…)
One can of course bend a half step or a whole step, or anything in between.
To get started, I recommend bending a full step! (Or whole step – 2 frets away from the starting note)
Practice your bends, they do take time to become second nature!
Adding the ninth into pentatonic scale
The tension 9th note is probably one of the most nostalgic notes that you can use against an underlying harmony.
The amazing thing is, that even though the harmony moves around, if you play the tension 9th with the pentatonic scale, you get wonderful tensions throughout the harmonies!
Let’s take for example the following progression in G Minor: (i VI iv V)
G Minor to Eb Major to C Minor to D Major
The 9th in this case “A” creates the following tensions:
On G Minor – 9th
On Eb Major – #11
On C Minor – 13
On D Major – 5th
So basically, you are benefiting from a number of wonderful tensions just by hitting the 9th in the scale! (WITHOUT knowing it!)
It’s an absolutely amazing note – make sure you use it in your solos!
The importance of developing your own style of playing in the pentatonic scale
As you become more mature with the pentatonic scale, you will eventually develop your own style.
I always recommend learning a set of licks that you really love to build your own “guitar lick” repertoire.
(Do not worry about become “uncreative” when learning licks, if you really know your licks, you will be able to change them and adapt them on the spot!)
As you become a master of your repertoire and the guitar neck, you will eventually develop your own style.
It is vital that you put in the work required to get to that stage.
By having your own set of ideas and executing them flawlessly across the guitar neck, you will be pleasantly surprised at just how wonderful it sounds.
That is exactly what happens when you listen to guitarists like Slash from Guns ‘n Roses.
Slash is a tremendous guitarist and although technically he may not be Shawn Lane, he has an uncanny tone and a wonderful understanding of the pentatonic scale.
I would recommend listening to a lot of his work to help you develop your own style. (Gary Moore as well!)
Santana is a Mexican guitarist who introduced a lot of Latin rock music to the world! He has developed a very nice style of playing the pentatonic scale across the guitar neck with added notes such as the 6th and 9th! (Creating a Dorian sound…)
So put in the time required and go for it – there is a world of beauty out there waiting for you to discover!
Think of how great you will feel if you can take the guitar and just fly across the neck and set the world on fire with your guitar playing!
I just want to encourage you and let you know that you can reach the top! (YES YOU CAN)
You can become the guitarist you have always wanted to become!
As long as you keep on searching keep on studying you will get what you want!
I always recommend excellent tuition and excellent input!
Your dreams will become a reality if you just keep on going and develop that sound that everyone love!
Build your repertoire of licks – start studying, be diligent and success will eventually be yours! (The sooner you start the sooner you WILL attain it!)
A mentor can help you unlock the gems in the pentatonic scale
You may have heard the following a lot:
“So-and-so is a wonderful guitarist, he is entirely self-taught.”
It always amazes me how people love the phrase self-taught.
Usually self-taught musicians are mediocre musicians.
You do have the exception, but most of the greatest musicians on earth had input from other great musicians.
Even the ones who were self-taught surrounded themselves with excellent musician to pull them up!
So I would highly recommend getting help and paying for help if you can.
The small financial investment that you will make in comparison with the joy that you will get from playing your guitar well will be whimsical!
I always believe in giving to get.
You cannot become the best without getting help from the best.
Of course, it is possible to become exceptional and the best without (formally) learning from anyone – but you will still need help from books, material and the best music on earth. (Even if it means listening and subscribing solos 10 hours a day… – another form of payment…)
The role of a mentor is to help you get there quicker.
A mentor is there to guide you, a mentor is there to care for you.
A mentor is there to encourage and help you go forward with your guitar journey.
That’s why I always recommend taking the time out to learn.
I would also be very careful with who I study with.
A bad teacher can (unintentionally) help you to develop terrible habits. (Meaning you have to re-learn the guitar AGAIN!)
You want to have an excellent instructor who genuinely cares for your development and looks after your playing.
There are honestly not many people that I can recommend, my schedule is limited and only accept a number of serious students.
Should you be very serious about learning the guitar – you can get in contact with me. (SERIOUS APPLICANTS ONLY)
We live in a day and age where there is a big hunt for a lot of free information.
Free information has its place, but paying for something is where GENUINE results are actually obtained.
There is also a POWERFUL occurrence that happens when you hand over finance for something in return.
It is as if the investment you make all of a sudden has an ADDITIONAL value.
By paying you are essentially to a certain degree “forcing” yourself to develop.
It is no wonder that individuals who invest seriously, receives the most and become the best. (Alongside practise of course!)
That is why some of the best individuals in the corporate world come from some of the most prestigious universities across the world such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford.
They’ve paid the best to become the best in the world!
If you want to take your guitar playing to the moon and even reach for the stars – you need the best input. You can only go so far learning everything by yourself.
The pentatonic scale can easily be mastered if you have a guide a mentor who looks after you.
Once again, my schedule is really limited – but do accept a number of very serious candidates. (APPLY HERE)
Alternatively, read my article on how to choose a guitar teacher.
So go for it – develop your style, learn the pentatonic scale, but make sure you get the best quality.
Become a master of the neck and know the pentatonic scale inside out
Your success starts with a decision.
You simply have to make a decision to see the whole task through.
It takes many years to truly master the pentatonic scale across the neck, but you can get there so much quicker – if you start and do it RIGHT NOW and go for it!
Most guitarists except mediocrity.
The very fact that you’re reading this article, proves that you are not like most mediocre guitarists.
You are searching – you’re searching for answers and that is why you will become part of the elite. (The 3 percenters….)
So make a decision and do not settle for anything but the VERY best.
You deserve the best of the best because you are one-of-a-kind.
Have a plan, have written goals to help you become a master of the pentatonic scale.
Get to know it inside out. NEVER GIVE UP until you do!
Play it over two strings.
After that, play it over three strings.
After that played over four strings.
You can then also try to incorporate string skipping through all the various pentatonic scales.
You can even get more creative and do two-handed tapping on the guitar and play two positions at the same time.
The list goes on and on and on.
You’re only limited by your imagination. (The possibilities are endless)
Musical expression is infinite and you can achieve far more you can think of!
You simply open your mind and be creative and go for it and become the best that you can be.
If there’s one thing I want to leave with you in this article is a fact that YOU CAN become the best!
You can become the master of your pentatonic guitar scale destiny.
Do not only focus on minor pentatonic position 1 alone, but also look for gems in position 2-5!
It is tempting to stick with the minor pentatonic position one, but don’t.
You need to move on and practice through all the positions of the pentatonic scale.
Position two, position three, position four and position five each have their own personalities.
If you’re anything like me, then you will also love travelling…
I love going to Switzerland.
BUT Switzerland has a different flavour than for example Russia.
And Russia has a different flavour to for example France.
France once again has a different flavour to Germany.
And Germany to the good old UK!
And UK to the United States of America…
It is exactly the same with the pentatonic scale – one country is not necessarily better than another!
Yes, one country may be economically more powerful OR artistically more powerful, but each country has got something special to offer.
It is exactly the same with the pentatonic scale.
Each position has got something different to offer.
That is why you need to study and master all of the positions in order to create a very interesting sound and style on the guitar that people will love you for.
So do not only stick to the first position – but put in the extra effort to do more than the rest.
You will be very glad you did!
Be part of the 3% of adults to have clear, written, concise and time-bound goals.
According to success giant, Brian Tracy, only 3% of adults have clear written and concise time-bound goals
The rare individuals who have their time-bound goals written out, achieve 10 times more than the average individual.
It is therefore ABSOLUTELY essential that you have a clear, written plan on how you are going to develop your pentatonic guitar solo.
It also needs to be time-bound.
You need to have deadlines and dates by which certain things need to be met!
The greatest musicians are very organised and disciplined individuals.
Do not believe the artistic myth of bohemianism and romanticism.
Serious musicians have serious goals.
So make absolutely certain that you’ve got written goals for your pentatonic scale development.
If you do that you will make tremendous progress in a very short period of time.
If you persist the reward will be yours and you can truly master the pentatonic scale!
In my mind, there is no doubt that you can truly master the pentatonic scale.
Is only a question of whether you can persist.
Persistence is the ultimate tool toward your guitar playing success.
If you persist and continue on a daily basis to practice and practice and practice, you will eventually wear out the rock
(Remember the Russian proverb: “Little drops of water eventually wears out the rock”)
Have a practice schedule!
Stick with your practice schedule.
Be dedicated, be persistent – you will be glad that you have done that.
Practice the minor pentatonic scale in each and every position.
Practice the minor pentatonic scale throughout the cycle of fifths.
Practice the minor pentatonic scale on a daily basis.
Get together with other musicians – have a jam and practice improvising using the minor pentatonic scale.
Believe in yourself – you can achieve great success!
Persist and insist – it is the key to opening all the doors. (Along with great mentorship!)