The Minor Pentatonic Scale

Pictured below is the number one scale in modern lead guitar playing. As all guitarists, Rock, Blues, Pop, Alternative, and even Jazzers use this scale extensively to create a funky, earthy, powerful gut bucket type of feeling. With its forgiving nature, ease of use and playability the Minor Pentatonic Scale has become the favorite scale of many excellent guitarists and guitar heroes as the Minor Pentatonic Scale can be heard on virtually all classic Rock, Blues, and Pop recordings. In the general busuness of being a modern lead guitarist, the minor pentatonic scale is your number one tool.

The Major Scale Is the King Of Music Theory

Throughout this course you will repeatedly read through the scale spellings for the C Major, Minor, & Minor Pentatonic. Remember, all music theory rests on the Major Scale. The Eb and Bb notes are the flatted 3rd and flatted 5th degrees of the C Major Scale and are of paramount importance to the sound of the scale.

Theoretically speaking, the 5 Notes of the Minor Pentatonic scale are 1, b3, 4, 5 & b7 of the Major scale. Each note in the scale has a story: C, F and G are obviously scale tones I, IV and V and represent the strength of the scale. The Bb (called b7) and Eb (called b3) are the most famous blue notes. Having all these facts at your immediate disposal takes practice and careful study of the diagrams.

Suprisingly, Minor, Major & Dominant Applications

In this course you're learning to put all musical sounds, cadences, melodies and chord progressions in one of three basic categories,: Major, Minor and Dominant. In terms of being a lead guitar player its your job to use notes to express, enhance or just generally solo over these 3 chord sounds. So far we've examined 2 ways to do the job:

  1. As a stream of chord tones and approach notes or a lick.
  2. (or) As a scale or scale passage which always suggests the sound of the parent key for a chord or chord progression.

In modern guitar playing, the Minor Pentatonic Scale, has an interesting and unique feature: it can and does function quite nicely as a basis for either a Minor, Major or Dominant key or chord sound. It's a tool you use to perform 3 different jobs, to function in 3 different enviornments. Like my electric classical guitar works on a smooth jazz gig, classical performance, and as a teaching tool.

 
The sound of the Minor Pentatonic Scale is sharp and angular. Funky and bluesy. As you listen to and play the scale, think musical flavor and quality. Below is a visual reference with the C root notes highlighted in red. A big part of this course is active, engaged listening, listen to the scale a few times before playing by clicking the guitar icon to the left.

Minor Pentatonic Scale With Minor Key Songs

In the previous lesson we learned to play a C minor scale as a solo to go with some classic cadences written in the Key Of C Minor. In this lesson we are going to transfer that thinking to the C minor pentatonic scale as pictured above.

Below is an ear training and listening exercise where the C minor pentatonic scale is sounded against standard chord progressions in the key of C minor. In the listening examples I am using stepwise movement, scalewise movement, with a strong sense of rhythm. This is the smooth conversational style and sound you are after. Even though this is a listening exercise the solos here should be very easy to copy.

Typical Minor Key Chord Progressions

 
 

Minor Pentatonic Scale Over Dominant Chords

The sound of dominant chords really drives the sound of modern music, that is why the minor pentatonic scale has earned a definite, special and important place in the world of Rock and Blues guitar playing because all of the notes in the C minor pentatonic scale sound good when played against a C7 (dominant) chord sound. Or to put in theoretical terms, all of the notes in a C Minor Pentatonic Scale are either chord tones or accaptable extensions of the C7 Chord.

The following solos once again use a very simple rhythm and play the notes of the C Minor Pentatonic Scale in their correct order beginning and ending on C Root Note -what you have learned to call stepwise movement. Use these recorded examples as a good, solid ear training, enabling you to identify a particular scale just by hearing its quality, personality and overall musical effect.

Typical Dominant Chord Progressions

 
 

Minor Pentatonic Scale Over Major Key Songs

If a Rock, Pop, or Alternative type of song cadnces to a cne major chord, a minor pentatonic scale is usually still be the scale of choice for the funky blues/ rock sound we all know and love so much. Notice the first chord progression is a I -IV -V major key song, but still sound good with a minor pentatonic scale. This is part of the mystery and magic of rock and roll my friends.Choose this scale when you want a traditional Rock and Roll sound -a sound that is funky, bluesy and hot. This is what we as guitar players are acutely aware of, aware of the outcome, aware of the sound.

Typical Chord Progressions Based On A Major Chord

 
 

Flat 3rd & Natural 3rd

This works because one of the defining sounds, if not the defining sound of Rock and Roll and its Blues heritage is the flat 3rd (b3) blue note. It’s this note that most defines the style. This is especially evident in the Blues, the b3rd and the 3rd of the major scale are often both included in melodies in licks, doing a smooth slide, bend, and/ or hammer on any articulation connecting the b3rd and the 3rd of the major scale produces very tasty, convincing, traditional and stylish Rock and Blues solos. The important point: playing the b3rd of the Major Scale against that scales' major chord produces a startling and pleasing sound of dissonance, a controlled bite.

Short Phrases Using Both the Flat 3rd & Natural 3rd

Below are two short phrases which contain both the flatted and natural 3rd of the parent key of C, these ideas offer a good way to get insight into those idiomatic and iconic guitar phrases that are so essentioal to this course of study.

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Full Length Solo Based On A Minor Pentatonic Scale

Below is a nice full length solo written in an early rock or surf style. It is imperative that you study and copy the solos of other guitarists as this is just as much a part of the learning process as learning to run scales. There is also a printable analysis of this solo in the PDF linlk at the bottom of this page, the minor pentatonic scale is used throughout the solo, but only on the C chords, when the bans changes to the F chord, the solo reflects the chord change by playing arpeggios (chord tones) to make the solo sound more professional and right on the money.

You could use this solo as the basis for your "go to" or first choice solo when you are called upon to play in the oldies style or early rock style. This solo could easily be adopted in to lots of styles and songs as you will discover. For an extra challenge, play along with the recorded solo in perfect unison.

Click this link for additional notes, diagrams, charts and a study guide and for this lesson.