Music School Owner, Recording Artist, Guitarist, Composer, Performer & Educator. My goal is to make good music, make and keep good friends.
All About the Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale on the guitar (particularly the E minor pentatonic scale) is a blues and rock guitar staple. There have been so many guitar driven songs in this key that one could easily make a case for E being the starting place to learn about blues and rock soloing and songwriting.
The "Theory" (For Those That Have to Know!)
The pentatonic scale as the name implies is a five note scale. Although there are many five note pentatonic scales out there, the most common ones are the minor pentatonic and the major pentatonic.
In the E minor pentatonic, the notes are E-G-A-B-D and can be thought of primarily a subset of one of the three larger seven note minor modal scales.
- E Dorian: E F# G A B C# D
- E Aeolian: E F# G A B C D
- E Phrygian: E F G A B C D
In each case we are leaving out the the 2nd and 6th note. So, even though this is not specifically a lesson on how to solo over modes, this will give you the basic idea of how the pentatonic scale can work in a modal situation.
In a mode, the chords and chord combinations often include those left out 2nds and 6ths, which are not the same in every mode. The solution is to use the pentatonic scale as a "blanket" scale, that one, leaves out those tricky 2nds and 6ths, and two, makes a great reference point when you are learning modes. There are also multitudes of cool pentatonic licks out there that you will eventually pick up on.
The G major pentatonic has the same notes as the E minor pentatonic as well. This is known as the "relative major" of E minor and is a subset of the three larger seven note major modal scales.
- G Ionian: G A B C D E F#
- G Lydian: G A B C# D E F
- G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F
In each case we are leaving out the the 4th and 7th note. So as in the case of the minor pentatonic and the minor modes, the major pentatonic works as the blanket scale for all three of the major modes.
Blues and Rock Messes With the Minor Scale Theory
Ok, now someone says let's play some blues. So throw out what you just learned about the minor modes and how the minor pentatonic works there, and welcome to the foggy grey area of blues and rock guitar soloing. The confusing thing to some is that even though this scale is defined as a minor scale, it is so often played over major and dominant 7th chord progressions.
This is a subject for future writings, however, here is a brief list of typical situations where this versatile scale may fit.
- Normally pretty much anything that is based around E minor. Emi-C, Emi-D, Emi-G, Emi-F, Emi-Ami as well as Emi blues.
This is not so normal in a classical sense.
- E major situations that use I-IV-V as in blues which typically use dominant 7th chords.
- E major situations that use E-D, E-G, E-A.
- Static vamps on E7.
Read More From Spinditty
So basically, in many blues and rock instances, we superimpose the minor pentatonic scale over major chords.
Relative major (another more in depth article needed)
- G major situations. The E minor pentatonic scale has the same notes as the G major pentatonic scale: GABDE. This means that in progressions that use G major such as G-C, G-D, G-Emi, G-Ami and G-F that this same scale can be used.
Again, this is a subject that needs to be explored in more detail but really emphasizes the importance of learning how to to play this scale.
E Minor Pentatonic #1 in the E Minor Shape
How to Practice the Scales
So often guitarists just learn the scales from top to bottom, 6th string to 1st and back. While you need to know the scales that way, it can't be emphasized enough how a guitarist needs to know all of their scales from root to root to know how the scale should sound.
This means in this case, start on the E and end on the E. This is how these video lessons are structured. Even thought he whole pattern is ultimately played, the scale is broken up in such a way as to emphasize the E notes.
We are also showing how the scales match the CAGED chords. More on CAGED below.
E Minor Pentatonic #3 in the C Minor Shape
E Minor Pentatonic #2 in the D Minor Shape
E Minor Pentatonic #4 in the A Minor Shape
E Minor Pentatonic #5 in the G Minor Shape
E Minor Pentatonic #1 in the E Minor Shape
A Brief Intro to CAGED
CAGED refers to the open chord shapes C, A, G, E and D, and includes all of the chord qualities such as major, minor, 7th etc. When playing them as bar chords CAGED is the order they appear in. Huh? That is, if you take for example a C chord, the first way to play it is as the
- C open followed by,
- A shape bar or capo 3rd fret.
- G shape bar or capo 5th fret.
- E shape bar or capo 8th fret.
- D shape bar or capo 10th fret.
Then it's back to the 1st shape C shape bar or capo 12th fret (pretty tight).
© 2013 Mark Edward Fitchett
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on September 30, 2014:
Hi. nice Hub, very informative. I agree scales are necessary to improve knowledge and playing.
Mark Edward Fitchett (author) from Long Beach on September 05, 2014:
Thanks for letting me know. 2nd and 6th for minor. Fixed :-)
Adrian on September 05, 2014:
In the one part you mention that the 2nd and 5th are left out and then a little later the 2nd and 6th note?