Major Pentatonic Scale
In popular genres like rock, metal, jazz, and blues, guitarists are often called upon to perform solos, which are usually down by improvising. Improvising is a craft that encompasses many skills and techniques and it is one of the most important things a guitarist should learn how to do.
Improvising is done by using a certain scale for whatever key you are playing in and using the notes in that scale to play a killer solo. One of the most common scales used for improvising is the major pentatonic scale. Since it is evident that this is an important scale, it is definitely one you’ll want to be familiar with. Let’s dive into it.
History of Major Pentatonic Scale and It’s Uses
The major pentatonic scale is based on the major scale and it has 5 notes instead of 7. Major pentatonic scales have been used commonly by guitar players in many styles, especially rock and jazz.
The reason is that these scales are easier to play, learn, and they just sound better over chord progressions. These reasons have led to their tremendous popularity in improvising and soloing by many guitar players.
They are used more commonly than the major scales, but only two notes separate them. Here’s some more info on this small difference between the two.
Difference from the Major Scale
The big distinction that you need to make between a major scale and a major pentatonic scale in any key is the notes that are used.
In the major pentatonic scales, the 4th and 7th notes of the major scale are left out. For example, the A major scale is A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#. Therefore, the A major pentatonic scale is A, B, C#, E, and F#, so you can see that D and G#, the 4th and 7th notes, are left out.
That’s the pattern for any major pentatonic scale in any key. If you know what notes are in a major scale, you should be able to derive the pentatonic scale easily. This means that you can play these scales anywhere on the neck as long as you are familiar with the location of these notes on the guitar for each string.
However, many guitar players nowadays have become so dependent on tabs that they don’t know the notes on the neck very well. If you fall into this category, don’t worry. There are five main patterns that you can use on any major pentatonic scale that cover all the way down the neck. Let’s talk about those patterns now, as they are crucial in memorizing these scales.
Five General Patterns
Luckily for guitar players everywhere, the major pentatonic scales are one of the easiest to memorize in any key. There are five similar patterns that start at the top of the neck all the way to the 12th fret which gives you the ability to play the scale in more than one octave.
Below is a fret diagram for each of these five patterns. The most important thing you must understand when viewing these diagrams is the notes colored red. These are what are called root notes, and they are the notes that will change depending on what key you’re playing in.
Let’s say you wanted to play the E major pentatonic scale. Any place on the diagram where you see a root note denoted, find the nearest location of an E note on that string. Simply include that E note in your scale and it will now be an E major pentatonic. It’s as simple as that!
If you think you’ve got the concept of root notes down, then check out this chart.
(suggested photo, you can use a different one. The site says that you can use the chart if you reference it. Here’s the link to the page: http://www.all-free-guitar-lessons.com/pentatonic-guitar-scales.html.)
The Fun Part; How to Start Playing and Memorizing These Scales
Using the five patterns is really the best way to memorize these scales. Start with whatever scale you want, for example, an A major pentatonic. Figure out the nearest ‘A’ notes in each place where a root note is denoted, and then start practicing playing the scale both front and backward. Practice playing down the neck with it until you can do it fast, accurate, and with complete memorization.
There’s really no secret tip to it. You may not want to hear it, but practicing these scales are really the best way to memorize them. Try learning 2-3 major pentatonic scales and after that, you should be able to learn all of them quickly.
Once you’ve completely memorized a couple you can finally try improvising with them. Have a friend or a recording play a chord progression in a specific key and then use the major pentatonic scale in that key. The best players utilize the entire neck when improvising, using multiple patterns at the same time.
There’s a lot to improvising, so be sure to read this article for some great techniques and methods. Just like scales, it’s something that is best learned by practicing yourself, so get to it when you feel you are ready.