Learning the Minor Pentatonic Scale: Part 1 (Form 1)
Guitar Goblin is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more here.
The world of guitar scales is vast and amazing – encompassing a huge range of sound and color. You can certainly spend a lifetime investigating the mysterious corners of the guitar fretboard. However, having a guide on your journey is often vitally important.
Whether you want to wail like Hendrix, scream like Van Halen, or shred like Vai, one scale is particularly well suited for the guitar: the minor pentatonic scale. Let Guitar Goblin be your guide for this five-part series on the minor pentatonic scale.
What is the minor pentatonic scale?
The minor pentatonic scale is one of the most common and useful scales in music. It is a five-note scale consisting of a root, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Even if you don’t quite know what those terms mean, chances are that if you randomly sang any five notes in a row, they would form the minor pentatonic scale. The scale is something of a human universal.
The minor pentatonic scale is found in nearly every type of music. From blues to rock, jazz to hip-hop, to pop and RnB, the minor pentatonic scale has a role to play in almost every setting. Learning how to use and understand this scale will be an incredible benefit to your guitar playing!
How do we play the minor pentatonic scale
The guitar is a special instrument, for many reasons. As you may have found out, there are many different ways to play the same chords and scales all over the guitar. The nature of the guitar’s tuning and layout allows us to play the same shapes and patterns in multiple different positions.
For this reason, when we learn scales at first on the guitar, we most often break them up into different “forms” or patterns. In this first part of our five-part series on the minor pentatonic scale, we will explore the first form (otherwise referred to as the 1st position, Box 1, or Pattern 1 of the minor pentatonic).
Playing the first form of the minor pentatonic scale
The first form of the minor pentatonic scale is often the first scale beginning guitarists learn. But, that does not mean it isn’t an awesome and useful scale! On the contrary, you will use this pattern quite often for the rest of your guitar-playing career.
We will learn how to play the scale in E minor. Check out the tab and notation below:
Beginning the minor pentatonic shape on the 12th fret of the low E string, we can see that the scale is spelled E – G – A – B – D – E. Practice playing this scale up and down, stopping and starting at various points that feel intuitive. Then, try creating short melodies inside the scale pattern.
A small dose of theory
The minor pentatonic scale is a five-note scale with a particular sequence of notes. This sequence of notes is what defines the minor pentatonic scale, as opposed to the major scale or natural minor scale.
Since patterns can be moved around the guitar fretboard so easily, it is easy to disregard the theory underlying guitar scales. However, it is important to understand if you want to know music theory and guitar playing on a deeper level.
Here we can see the intervals that make up the minor pentatonic scale:
The minor pentatonic scale is a minor 3rd, followed by a major 2nd, another major 2nd, a minor 3rd, and finally a major 2nd. From this interval sequence, we can distill a formula that can be applied in any key virtually anywhere on the fretboard.
This formula for the minor pentatonic scale is:
1 – ♭3 – 4 – 5 – ♭7 – 1
Practicing and creating with the minor pentatonic scale
Ok! Now that you have the first form of the minor pentatonic scale and digested that quick dose of the underlying theory, let’s dive into some patterns or exercises if you will. You’ll need to practice building your skills with the scale – in order to create music with it of course!
After all, what good is practicing scales for hours if we don’t ever use them to make music?!
Moving the shape around the fretboard
First, let’s practice moving the scale around the fretboard. Remember the root note of the scale is the first note on the low E string. Since we began the E minor pentatonic scale on the 12th fret of the low E string, that scale is called E.
If we move down to the 5th fret on the low E string, what scale do we have? A is on the fifth fret of the low E string, so playing the pattern from there is the A minor pentatonic scale. Practice the scale pattern from all possible starting locations and try to name each one as you go.
A simple sequence
Next, practice this simple sequence pattern to build some familiarity and muscle memory with the scale:
Practicing patterns like this will also enhance your agility on the fretboard. We will explore a different sequence pattern in each of the next four articles on the minor pentatonic scale, so check them all out! Likewise, you can move this pattern all around the fretboard. Practice this sequence from every possible starting position!
Take some time now to explore creating your own melodies and ideas with the minor pentatonic scale. Here are a few ideas to get you moving!
Tying it all together
The minor pentatonic scale is an incredibly useful scale for guitarists. In this first part of Guitar Goblin’s five-part series on the minor pentatonic scale, we explored the first form, dove into a little theory of the scale, and learned a few practice patterns we can use to improve our skills.
A great book I recommend for learning scales is The Complete Technique, Theory and Scales Compilation for Guitar (found here on Amazon).
You can find Part 2 here, where we explore the second form of the minor pentatonic scale and some new practice patterns. Until then, happy practicing!