Major Pentatonic Scale

So you may have heard about the major scale, and why it’s so important for being in key. The one main problem with the major scale is: there are 7 notes. That means 7 notes to choose from in a solo, but also 7 possible notes that could be mistakes! What they should do is: take out all the possible “wrong” notes, and leave us with just the interesting “right” notes. Well…guess what? That’s exactly what happened, and they called it: the major pentatonic scale!

Major Pentatonic Scale Shapes

If you want to expand this scale to cover the whole fretboard, there are five scale shapes that you should learn. In the diagrams below, the root notes are in red, the seconds are in black, the thirds green, the 5ths blue and the 6ths are orange (remember: we’re only using the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes in this scale).

What is the Major Pentatonic Scale?

The word “pentatonic” is from the Greek, and it means: five (penta-) notes (-tonic). So, the major pentatonic scale is only five notes taken from the major scale. It’s like a stripped down version of it’s bigger brother with most of the possible “wrong notes” removed- leaving only the ones you’re likely to want anyway!

Stripping Down the Major Scale

To construct the major pentatonic, we take the major scale (this example is in C):

C D E F G A B

And take out some of the “avoid” notes- the 4th, and the 7th (which are the most likely to clash with whatever we’re playing over). This leaves us with only the: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes.

In C this would be:

C D E G A

Which is the perfect guitar scale to solo over a C major chord progression or backing track!

Here it is on the guitar neck:


e -------------------------
B -------------------------
G --------------2--5-------
D --------2--5-------------
A --3--5-------------------
E -------------------------

As with any scale, this one exists all over the neck, and you’ll probably more often use this shape:


e --------------------------------8--10
B --------------------------8--10-------
G --------------------7--9-------------
D --------------7--10-------------------
A --------7--10-------------------------
E --8--10-------------------------------

What’s Good about the Major Pentatonic Scale?

  • It’s easy to solo with in a major key
  • Add a ♭3 (between the 2nd and 3rd notes) for a blues/country feel
  • Bend the 2nd note up for a country style bend

Major Pentatonic Licks

Good places to start building your own licks from involve bending the 2nd note up to the third (2 frets):


e ---------8---------
B -------8---8-------
G -7b(9)-------7b(9)-
D -------------------
A -------------------
E -------------------

This lick kinda sounds like a country thing, but it also has it’s uses in rock music (check out: Zakk Wylde). Use your third finger for the bend and your little finger barred across the 1st and 2nd strings on the 8th fret.

Then there is the infamous, repeating lick:


e ------8------8------8-
B -8h10---8h10---8h10---
G ----------------------
D ----------------------
A ----------------------
E ----------------------

This one is also good:


e ---------8------------
B ----8h10--------------
G -/9-------------------
D ----------------------
A ----------------------
E ----------------------

…and so is this one:


e ----------------------
B -10b(12)bd(10)p8------
G -----------------9----
D ----------------------
A ----------------------
E ----------------------

learn to play lead guitar now!

All these examples are in the key of C (and use the scale shape above), but you can move them to other keys if you want (just move the shape to start on a different note).

I hope you can have some fun soloing with the major pentatonic scale!

If you really want to get into playing lead guitar, my new book ‘Awesome Lead Guitar’ is out now. In it you’ll learn the most common scales and techniques that lead guitarists use with full scale diagrams and tabs!

Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.

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