How to Play the Major Pentatonic Scale on Guitar

In this lesson I will show the easiest and most effective approach for improvising with the major pentatonic scale.

Use this free tutorial to:

  • Learn basic music theory.
  • Tune your ears to this scale’s unique sound.
  • Know how to improvise with it musically.
  • Have fun while you learn!

A Pentatonic scale is made up of five notes which gives the scale a spacious feeling. The major pentatonic is one of the most common 5 note scales. It is a great tool for playing hard tunes because it has just a few notes. More than a simple, happy scale – the major pentatonic can be used for many awesome modern flavors such as used by Kurt Rosenwinkle, John Scofield, Pat Metheny and many other modern guitarists.

So the major pentatonic scale has many great uses in jazz. Let’s get started to see how!

The Major Pentatonic Scale

major pentatonic

As you can see, the major pentatonic is simply the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th of the major scale.

Fingering

Here is how to play the major pentatonic on the guitar in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale:

major pentatonic major pentatonic

Minor Pentatonic vs Major Pentatonic – what is the difference?

Same notes; different name.

Just as the aeolian or natural minor scale is a mode of the major scale, the minor pentatonic is a mode of the major pentatonic.

C major pentatonic = A minor pentatonic.

They are the same scale, starting from a different note. Thus, anything you know about minor pentatonics can be used on major pentatonics or vise versa.

Cool.

How to Use the Major Pentatonic Scale

Initially, the major pentatonic might seem plain to you. It sounds happy and open, pleasing to the ears. But try this: play a D Major pentatonic scale over a Cmaj7. Suddenly the notes of our pentatonic scale are 100x more interesting.

Play through each of these situations and explore the untapped potential of the Major Pentatonic Scale. Just play a Eb major pentatonic scale on each of the roots as specified, you’ll create some crazy sounds.

Eb Major Pentatonic Uses

RootChord CreatedRelative Note ValuesSam's Tip
CCm11R, b3, 4, 5, b7Effectively playing a C minor pentatonic scale.
DbDbmaj13#117, 9, 3, #11, 13Very hip lydian sound.
EbEbmaj96, R, 9, 3, 5Your normal Major pentatonic.
FF115, b7, R, 9, 11A nice mixolydian, suspended sound. The 3rd isn't specified so you could use this on a minor chord.
AbAbmaj133, 5, 6, 7, 9A useful major sound!
AA7Altb3, #11, b13, b7, b9Wow, look at all those juicy altered dominant notes! Mmm
BbBbm13 or Bb139, 11, 5, 6, RNot too exciting but useable on minor or major chords as there is no third.

Well, that is all for my Major Pentatonic lesson. Can you think of any uses I missed? Please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

Thanks for checking out this lesson,

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

 

Comments

  1. Michael Wickham says

    Sam pleas help I don’t understand what you mean “play as specified”
    Do I play the Eb major pentatonic …or the relative note values overs the chord?

    • Sam Blakelock says

      hey Michael, Sorry it can be confusing!

      So you play a Eb major pentatonic. Underneath that, you can record yourself playing the different root notes I mentioned– which changes the perceived sound of the Eb major pentatonic scale.

      Sam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *