The Minor Pentatonic and Blues Scales (lesson)

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In this lesson we are going to look at our first scale, the Minor Pentatonic scale (more on the blues part later). In the introduction to scales we went over a few reasons that you might want to learn scales and how important they are to you as a musician. Well particularly for guitar, the Pentatonic is a great scale to learn. It is usually the first scale taught with good reason. It is pretty simple, and it works really well over simple chord progressions, and is a great place to start practicing improvisation for soloing.

Introducing the Minor Pentatonic Scale

The first thing to note about the Pentatonic scale is that it only has 5 notes (hence the Penta- in its name). Now since this is the first scale we have looked at in depth that migh not seem like a big deal, but in fact it is interesting because most scales you will learn inthe future have 7 notes in them. Among other things, this makes the pentatonic scale easier to play and finger because it only has 2 notes on each string. The Pentatonic comes in both major and minor - we will concentrate on the Minor Pentatonic scale in this lesson.

In the scales introduction we found out that any scale can be described by a simple numeric formula, and the Pentatonic scale is no exception to this.

Its formula is: 3 2 2 3 2

Lets see how this works in an example, for instance G Minor Pentatonic.

We start with G as our root note, and add each step of the formula to get the next note:

G + 3 semitones is Bb
Bb + 2 semitones is C
C + 2 semitones is D
D + 3 semitones is F
F + 2 semitones is G

So there you have it - G minor pentatonic is the notes G, Bb, C, D, F, G. You can apply this formula with any other root note to get the exact scale that you want.

On The Fretboard

So how does this look on the guitar? Well, since we have 5 notes, we also have 5 possible boxes or patterns for each key of the Minor Pentatonic, here they all are fr G Minor:






Remember that you can move these patterns up and down the neck to get the exact scale you want. For instance, if you want A minor Pentatonic, then you work it out as follows:

The root note A is 2 semitones up from G, so just move each of these patterns up 2 frets and voila, you have patterns for A minor pentatonic.

Also, the patterns repeat up the neck after the first five - so if you want to go up higher, start again with the first pattern played with the G root note played on the 15th fret instead of the 3rd fret.

The Blues Scale

The blues scale is very closely related to the minor pentatonic scale, and is used unsurprisingly in blues. The blues players often ad an attitional passing note to the pentatonic scale which is technically known as a flattened 5th - that means an extra note in between notes 3 and 4 of the pentatonic scale. This note is called the blue note, and when you add it to the minor pentatonic scale you get the blues scale. Since they are so closely related, I thought I'd mention it here!

Adding in that extra note changes the formula to look like this : 3 2 1 1 3 2, and our example G minor Pentatonic becomes G, Bb, C, Db, D, F, G when rewritten as the blues scale.

Lets look at our boxes again with the blue note included (shown in green just to be awkward!)






The Minor Pentatonic Scale in Action

Ok, now we know how to play the Minor Pentatonic and the Blues scale, lets talk about how we can put them into action. Both the Pentatonic and the Blues scales are particularly suitable for playing Rock and 12 bar blues with. Lets focus on 12 bar blues - a very pretty simple concept that has produced some amazing music over the years. Its elements are simple - a repeating chord sequence, and use of the pentatonic scale.

The chords you use are a type of I, IV, V progression - what that means isn't really important at this stage, but the chords you would use with a G minor or Pentatonic scale would be as follows (One chord represents 1 measure):

G - G - G - G - C - C - G - G - D - C - G - D

With this chord sequence as a backing, you can play sequences of notes from any of the pentatonic boxes and you will get a bluesy kind of improvisation going. For additional blues inspiration, take a look at the Blues section of the Video lessons - Gabriel has out together some awesome blues lessons to get you started!

Thats it - questions and comments in the forum!