The Minor Pentatonic Scale
The Minor Pentatonic Scale is an extremely important scale. My reason for being such a fan of it is that the note choice has been pre-selected (by better ears than mine) so it sounds good from the off (it is a ‘cut down’ version of a larger scale with 5 notes instead of 7 as it’s name suggests). This makes it a great scale to learn early on but it is more than simply a ‘foot in the door’ or starting point on a ladder to a more advanced harmonic palette (although it is that too). I learned a myriad of lessons when putting this scale into use through improvisation (vital to fully absorbing and understanding a scale). The development of my lead guitar phrasing, song writing ability and aural perception all stem from here. So it’s pretty important to me and is still my go to scale and starting point whenever I’m having a relaxed improvising or song-writing session.
Memorizing the Minor Pentatonic scale shapes on the fret-board is only one step towards learning and understanding it. As I’ve said, improvisation is where everything will come together (one third scale shape practice & two thirds improvisation should be a good starting point). Theory – wise, the minor pentatonic scale is simpler than many scales. The intervals we hear when listening to it are – Root note, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th and minor 7th. See here for an explanation of intervals.
Improvisation alone leads to frustration at the lack of raw materials to generate the ideas and just scale shape practice leads to boredom at it never coming together as an end product
Here are the 5 shapes of the Minor Pentatonic scale transcribed in A minor (blue link below). Each shape is played once ascending then descending and ends on the nearest root note (A). Then all 5 shapes are played continuously up the fret-board and finish with a high bend to the root –
Another important part of learning a scale is trying it in different keys. Again coupling scale shape practice with improvisation is vital so I will record an audio/video example (+ transcription) for each key that I transcribe the scale shapes for.
Here are the 5 pentatonic shapes again in the key of C minor (transcribed in the same way as A minor pentatonic) –
And lastly the 5 shapes of E minor pentatonic –
A fun way (which also saves time) to practice the scale shapes, once you have them initially memorized, is to try my pentatonic hammer ons exercise. Not only will this help get the shapes memorized but also is a great technical workout and won’t take much time out of a practice session.