Making Music With The Minor Pentatonic Scale

You’ve probably heard about the minor pentatonic scale from other guitar players and may even know the main pattern for it (see below) but may not know how to apply to songs you’re playing. If this is you read on to learn how to make music with the minor pentatonic scale.

Watch the A Minor Pentatonic Scale & Moving the Pentatonic Pattern video lesson.

The minor pentatonic scale is a 5 note scale used in the blues, rock and many other styles of music including folk, soul and jazz. In the blues and rock music it is used for the melody, riffs and solos.

The cool thing about the minor pentatonic scale is that is an easy scale to play on the guitar. The main pattern used for the scale on the guitar is easy to play and remember.

The example below is the A minor pentatonic scale.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale

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Listen to the audio of the A Minor Pentatonic Scale being played.

This scale is in the key of A minor as it starts on the A note on he 5th fret of the 6th (thick low E) string. This means that it will work with any song in the key of A minor or with a blues in A. So you can use this scale to improvise a melody over A minor songs including:

  • Angie – The Rolling Stones
  • Californication – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Cold Shot – Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Crossroads – Cream
  • House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals
  • One – U2
  • Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  • The Unforgiven – Metallica
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles

How To Improvise Guitar Solos Using The Minor Pentatonic Scale
One of the best ways to learn how to improvise with the minor pentatonic scale is to study how it is used in other songs.

While some of the guitar solos in the songs above use the A minor pentatonic scale they may also use other scales and arpeggios (notes of the chords). Often guitarists use a combination of scales in their solos so they may play other notes outside the minor pentatonic pattern.

With this in mind see if you can spot the A minor pentatonic pattern using the 5th, 7th and 8th frets in the guitar tab for Cold Shot, Crossroads and Stairway to Heaven.

Eric Clapton

The next step is to learn the solos or parts of the solos that use the A minor pentatonic scale and try and play them over other songs in the same key of A minor.

For example play parts of the Crossroads or Cold Shot solo that use the A minor pentatonic scale (the 5th, 7th and 8th frets) over House of The Rising Sun. Adjust the rhythm and phrasing of the notes in the solo to fit House of The Rising Sun and you should find they work quite well.

Then take this further and make your own phrases and melodies either using small parts of the Crossroads solo and mix it with parts of another guitar solo such as the solo from Cold Shot or Stairway to Heaven. This is how guitarists learn how to improvise their own solos. Jimi Hendrix borrowed phrases from Buddy and Eric Clapton from BB King so its OK to borrow guitar phrases from your guitar hero’s to inspire your own improvising.

Playing The Minor Pentatonic Scale in Different Keys
Now that you’ve investigated A minor pentatonic improvising the next obvious thing to do is to learn how to play the minor pentatonic scale over others songs in different keys. The trick to knowing what key the minor pentatonic scale is in is to learn the notes of the 6th (low/thick E) string on the guitar. Below is a table showing the notes on the 6th string. You need to learn these notes if you want to be able to confidently improvise in all keys on the guitar using the minor pentatonic scale pattern.

The 6th (low thick E) Guitar String Notes
e-string-guitar-notes

So for example if you want to improvise over a song in the key of B minor such as Hotel California by The Eagles simply play the minor pentatonic pattern starting at the 7th fret (B note on the E string). Or if you wanted to improvise over a song in the key of G minor such as Smoke on The Water by Deep Purple play G minor pentatonic starting on the 3rd fret which is G on the 6th string. Once you can get this concept under your fingers you can improvise over any minor song with the minor pentatonic scale. This works the same for blues tunes. If you want to play a blues in C play the minor pentatonic pattern starting at the 8th fret (C note on the E string) or for blues in D start your pattern on fret 10 (D note on the E string).

Now you know how to make music using the minor pentatonic scale in any minor key or for a blues in any key. Learn the phrases and licks from the masters of this scale like Eric Clapton, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan etc and you can play and improvise guitar solos over thousands of blues and rock songs.

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