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Blue Chain Lightning

Pentatonic Scales for the guitar

By Greg Cisko

The whole idea of these web pages is to easily explain lead guitar to the novice beginner. If you are looking for advanced, music theory, this website is not what you are looking for. For advanced music theory, I suggest looking at the alt.guitar.beginner USENET newsgroup. There are many regulars who post and contribute there. They are expert at theory and are very happy to help. They are a great folks.

If you have been playing rhythm guitar for a while and decide to try lead, your biggest problem is where and how to start. How do you know what the proper notes to play are? You see guitarists play lead all over the neck but how does the beginner know where these notes are? Those questions will be answered here.

Major Pentatonic vs Minor Pentatonic scale: As you might guess by now the answer is the Pentatonic scale. The Pentatonic scales are used quite often for improvisation while playing lead. There are 2 types of Pentatonic scales. Major and the more common Minor. What is the difference between the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales? Namely where the root notes are located. For each key, they are the same patterns except the Major Pentatonic scale is shifted 3 frets toward the nut as compared to it's Minor Pentatonic counterpart.

Some examples: A Minor Pentatonic contains the same notes as the C Major Pentatonic. Another example: If you want to play the A Major Pentatonic, it contains the same notes as the F# Minor Pentatonic. So if you think you know the key is in A, try changing from Minor Pentatonic A to Major Pentatonic A to see what fits best.

How do I make it sound good?: Pretty much any note in the scale will not sound bad or out of key if played in the proper key. You still have much work to do to make your leads sound good, but learning this basic information is the essential first step. Once you get used to it, you will find that many riffs in many songs are from the Pentatonic scale. You just need to find the right key (which should probably be another web page altogether). I have used the Pentatonic scale pretty much exclusively since the early 1980's.

The Pentatonic scales can be very intimidating and frustrating to understand for the beginner. The unfortunate part of this is that in reality it is very simple once you realize the concept. This concept is this: There are 5 patterns which span 12 frets (one octave). The patterns overlay on top of each other. The right edge of one pattern uses the same notes on the same fret and string as the left edge of the pattern next to it. It is like putting 5 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. The root pattern starts at the fret of the note on the E (6th) string you want the key to be in. The notes of the E (6th) string are listed in each illustration. The Pentatonic key of E has the root at the nut and 12th fret. The Pentatonic key of A has the root at the 5th and 17th frets. The scale repeats on and on forward and back.

Pentatonic Scale Map: This section introduces the 5 separate patterns of the Pentatonic scale. On the top of the map is each individual pattern of the Pentatonic scale. What are those confusing funny colored diamonds at the bottom of The Pentatonic Scale Map? They are showing the relationship of one pattern to another for all 5 patterns of the scale. At the bottom, is the attempt show that the patterns interlock and repeat. It is like having them laid out on a belt which wraps along the length of the neck. When you want to play in the key of G, just slide the entire scale so the beginning of Root Pattern 1 is on the G note (3rd and 15th frets) on the 6th E string. It may look confusing at first, but the point being made is "the right edge of one pattern uses the same notes on the same fret and string as the left edge of the pattern next to it".

The maps showing the roots, simply show where the root notes are throughout each scale. The root notes are in the same position within the patterns regardless of the key. As you can see the root notes for the Minor and Major Pentatonic are in different locations on the patterns though the patterns are the same. Keep in mind the root note on the 6th E string. It's location regardless of Minor Pentatonic or Major Pentatonic scale is the key you are playing in.

What I will attempt to illustrate is the 5 individual patterns and their relative position on the fret board for the Minor Pentatonic key of E (Major Pentatonic key of G). Then I illustrate the entire scale with all of the patterns overlaid on the entire fret board. I then show the root pattern and entire scale for the Minor Pentatonic keys of F, F#, G, A, B, C & D (Major Pentatonic keys of G#, A, A#, C, D, D#, & F). This should visually show how the entire scale and patterns shift depending on key. I am expecting you can look at the key of E Minor scale below and figure out how patterns 2 through 5 fit in the other keys based on where the root begins. The main thing to understand that the relationship of the 5 Pentatonic patterns is the same regardless of key.

Final note: These illustrations do not show all the keys possible. For example the Major Pentatonic Key of E is not listed or shown. But there is enough information given here to allow you to be able to figure it out. Experiment and have fun!

Please email gcisko@hotmail.com any comments or suggestions.

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