Major Pentatonic Lesson

Tackling The Major Pentatonic Scale – Everything You Need to Know

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The Major Pentatonic Scale is an extremely useful scale, which you’ll find easy to grasp if you’ve already learned the Minor Pentatonic Scale. In fact, if that’s the case, you could say that you already know the Major Pentatonic Scale. You just might not know how to use it yet.

You will hear the Major Pentatonic Scale used in a wide range of musical styles including rock, blues, country, jazz, and folk music alike. While it shares the same structure as the Minor Pentatonic Scale, it tends to have a lighter and happier sound than its minor relation. 

In this article, we will explore the construction of the Major Pentatonics and how it is played on the guitar. We’re also going to look at how the major and minor pentatonic scales are related, and finally some practice patterns we can use to master what you’ve learned.

Check out our 5 part course on Learning The Minor Pentatonics: Part 1

What is the Major Pentatonic Scale Formula?

The major pentatonic scale is a five-note scale based on the diatonic major scale, but using the formula: root (1st), 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes. In other words, the major pentatonic scale removes the 4th and 7th notes from the major scale.

G Major Scale
Form 1
G Major Pentatonic Position 1
Form 1

The Major Pentatonic Shapes:

These are all 5 shapes in the key of G major. Remember that yellow circles reflect your root note.

All 5 positions of the G major pentatonic scale
Click here for a comparison of the G major pentatonic’s relative minor scale – E minor pentatonic. You’ll see that they are the same scale with different root notes. If you wanted to play the E major pentatonic scale, then you would just shift the scale over so that your major root note was E (Form 1 would start from either the open position or the 12th fret).

How are the Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales Related?

You’ll also find that the major pentatonic scale is closely related to the minor pentatonic scale. In fact, the structure between the two is exactly the same.

You should recognize Form 1 of the major pentatonic as being the same shape as Form 2 of the minor pentatonic. In fact Form 1 of the G major pentatonic is the same exact scale as Form 2 of the E minor pentatonic.

Why is that though? This is a little (ok) very confusing! But, hear me out.

The major and minor pentatonic scales are related through the concept of relative minor and relative major. If you remember from our articles on the minor pentatonic scale – the notes of the E minor pentatonic scale are E – G – A – B – D – E. The notes of the G major pentatonic are G – A – B – D – E – G. Do you see any similarities?

Yup, they’re the same notes starting at a different root. Let’s dig more into understanding G major’s relative minor, which is a great place to start.

(What is a 1-4-5 chord progression?…)

What is Relative Minor/Relative Major

Relative minor/relative major is a concept in music that connects minor and major key centers. Every major key has a relative minor key and every minor key has a relative major key.

We’re going to look at how this works first. Don’t worry, we’ll show you how to quickly apply it to the fretboard afterward, but you have to eat your vegetables before dessert!

From a major key, like G major for example, the relative minor is always based on the 6th degree of the scale. G major is composed of these 7 notes:

G Major Scale DegreeNote
1stG
2ndA
3rdB
4thC
5thD
6thE
7thF#
You can see the diagram above which illustrates the notes of the 1st Form of the G major scale on the fretboard.

Above, you can see that the 6th note (or degree) of the major scale is E. This makes E the relative minor of G major.

From a minor key, like E minor for example, the relative major is based on the flat third scale degree (think E – F♯ – G). Again, you will see that the notes are exactly the same. It’s the order (and later, the application) of those notes that makes a difference.

E Minor Scale DegreeNote
1stE
2ndF#
3rdG
4thA
5thB
6thC
7thD

What the heck is Drop Db tuning? (read more here)…

How To Quickly Find Your Relative Major or Minor

Probably the easiest way to view the connections between relative major/relative minor is simply traveling three frets on the guitar. Below, you’ll see that E minor’s relative major is three frets higher – G.

If you’re trying to determine G major’s relative minor, you can just travel 3 frets down the neck – E. The same applies to any key.

The perfect place to display this is at Form 1 of the minor pentatonic where it meets Form 2.

E minor pentatonic form 1 and 2
E minor’s relative major is G.

Well, there’s the G major and the E minor pentatonic scale. Now, what about G minor pentatonic then? Just shift your scale over so that the first note of your minor pentatonic scale falls on G, then you’ve got G minor:

G minor pentatonic scale - the entire fretboard

Now that you’ve found the G minor pentatonic scale, look at the diagram above. What would G minor’s relative major be? If you guessed B – flat, then you’re on the money.

Ok, so we have G major and G minor. And we’ve discussed E minor, but then what about the E major pentatonic scale? Well, take Form 1 of the major pentatonic scale and position E as your Root. That would now look like this:

E major pentatonic - the entire fretboard

Hopefully, this section armed you with enough info to understand the relationship between your major and minor pentatonic scale. Now, let’s pick up the guitar and actually play the scale.

Playing the Major Pentatonic Scale on Guitar

We’re going to use Form 1 of the major pentatonic scale in the key of G for the remainder of our examples. The same principles will apply to the other 4 shapes as well though. From G on the third fret of the low E string, the major pentatonic scale looks like this:

Position 1 of the G major pentatonic tab

Practice Patterns for the Major Pentatonic Scale

Now that you have some understanding of the major pentatonic scale, how it is built and played, and how the major and minor pentatonic scales are related, let’s take a look at some practice patterns you can use to develop flexibility and facility with the scale.

When you go to actually apply the major pentatonic scale, you’ll learn to start resolving on the major root note. The way you play the G major pentatonic, for example, will determine whether you’re in E minor or G major. You’ll want to make sure you’re resolving on G when you’re playing in G major.

As you practice the patterns below, pay attention to the notes you’re playing. Learn to hear the root note (G) as you play it. This will help you a great deal when you begin improvising or constructing your own solos.

Pattern Number 1

Practice pattern number 1 is a three-note ascending sequence in the major pentatonic scale. Check it out below:

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If you’ve already been practicing your scales with quarter notes, why not add in an extra challenge? You can practice this pattern in eighth-note triplets also. That will add an extra element to your playing as well.

Remember, going back down the scale is just as important as going up!

Pattern Number 2

Practice pattern number 2 alternates thirds inside the scale. You can think of this pattern as skipping every other note in the scale. It’s really helpful to teach your fingers they don’t need to only move laterally up and down the scale.

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Pattern Number 3

Practice pattern number 3 is a variation on the major pentatonic scale in perfect fifths and minor sixths. This pattern is a great visual exercise and a wonderful way to build your picking coordination between strings.

You can create any number of variations on this pattern as well such as performing it in eighth notes or triplets. You could also extend this pattern in any number of ways. Use your imagination!

Homework

  1. Memorize all 5 shapes of the major pentatonic scale.
  2. Move them around the fretboard to play in different keys.
    • Practice knowing where your root notes are.
  3. Ask yourself each time, what the relative minor of your current key is.
  4. Practice them with a metronome (found here).

Extra credit: If you really want to ramp things up, play your major pentatonic scale with a jam track! Here’s a good track from Tom Baily Backing Tracks in G major. It has a slow tempo which is perfect to get you started.

Recess

This is where all your hard work pays off. Try learning the first solo to Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Great tune, not too hard and will likely leave you feeling like a Rock God!

Here it is in a helpful instructional video from Mr. Tabs (you should check out his YouTube Channel). It starts out in the 5th Form and is almost exclusively in the major pentatonic shape. The only exception to that is a couple of added 4ths which were borrowed from the diatonic major scale. The first solo begins at the 1:33 marker.

The key is G major, but technically it’s G – flat major because he’s tuned down a 1/2 step. So, you can reference these exact G major pentatonic scales, but you’ll need to tune down to play along with the recording.

Tying It All Together

The major pentatonic scale is a helpful and necessary scale for the contemporary guitarist. Understanding how the major pentatonic scale works and how it relates to the minor pentatonic scale will open up new creative opportunities for you and deepen your understanding of the guitar fretboard. 

If you need a refresher, be sure to check out Guitar Goblin’s Five-part series on the minor pentatonic scale. You can find part 1 here.

All the scale patterns you will learn there are the exact same as the scale patterns for the major pentatonic scale. Remember, the only thing that matters is what note you call the root!

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