The Minor Pentatonic Scale: A Complete Guide

One of the first scales we guitarists learn (and love) is the minor pentatonic scale. It fits really easily on the guitar. It has a nice ‘box’ shape and we can easily utilise pull offs and hammer-ons with it.

As jazz guitarists, the minor pentatonic scale holds a lot of untapped potential for us. But it is more than just an easy box-shape to shred on. Let me show you how the minor pentatonic is a powerful tool for playing spacious, modern lines on jazz guitar.

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!

Blues Scale vs Minor Pentatonic Scale – same thing?

Nearly. The blues scale has an extra note added between the 4th and 5th – the ‘blues note’. This lesson is on the minor pentatonic scale, you can check out my blues scale lesson here.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

minor pentatonic

As you can see a minor pentatonic scale contains just five notes: the root, b3, 4, 5 and b7.

Fingering

Below is how to play the Minor Pentatonic Scale on the guitar in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale:
minor pentatonic minor pentatonic

Minor Pentatonic Scale – Basic Use

The most common use for the minor pentatonic scale is over minor 7 chords. The scale highlights all the chord tones of a min7 chord as well as the 11th. This is just the simplest use for the scale, keep reading for some better options.

Minor Pentatonic Scale – Advanced / Awesome Use

A more sophisticated use is to play this scale over a chord not built off the root note of minor pentatonic scale. There are many exciting opportunities using this technique that will have you sounding modern very quickly.

Play a C minor pentatonic scale over a Dbmaj7#11 chord.

Suddenly, the notes of our minor pentatonic scale are highlighting some really interesting extensions. In relation to our new root – Db, our notes are the 7th, 9th, 3rd #11, 13th. Wow! Using one the most basic scales known to mankind, you are now hitting beautiful color notes on a maj7 chord.

The Fun Doesn’t Stop There

Play an A minor pentatonic scale over a G minor chord. You are hitting the 9th, 11th, 5th, 6th and root of Gm7.

The minor pentatonic scale, when played over certain chords, is a powerful tool for creating modern, spacious lines on jazz guitar. 

Below is a summary of my favorite uses of the minor pentatonic scale. I recommend recording each chord then playing the corresponding minor pentatonic over the top. Listen to each note of the scale and how it fits in with the chord.

C Minor Pentatonic Uses

RootChord CreatedRelative Note ValuesSam's Tip
CCm11R, b3, 4, 5, b7Your standard minor pentatonic.
DbDbmaj13#117, 9, 3, #11, 13Very hip lydian sound.
EbEbmaj96, R, 9, 3, 5Effectively playing a Eb major pentatonic scale.
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.

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 vide versa.

Cool.

Well, that is all for my Minor Pentatonics 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

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