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Minor Pentatonic Scales: Major Fun

WholeNote Staff (593) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

In this lesson, we'll focus on the Minor Pentatonic scale, and ways to incorporate it into your playing. I promise that I'll try really hard to keep boring and complicated scale theory to a minimum. If you're a gear-head like me, you might be really into that kind of thing, but chances are you'll probably want to cut to the chase and get busy playing. That's the point of this whole thing, right?

After you work on this lesson it might be a good idea to take a look at it's companion lesson Major Pentatonics: A Moving Lesson (#1044) located in the Theory / Reference section of Wholenote. It's all about the Major form of the Pentatonic scale and touches on some things that we won't get to in this minor oriented lesson. With that said, let's dig into some Minor Pentatonic Scale stuff. Shall we?...

First of all, what does Pentatonic mean exactly? The word itself is derived from a latin word meaning "five tones", or "five notes". True to its name, a Pentatonic Scale is a five note scale. There are basically two types of Pentatonic Sales: Major and Minor. Both forms are widely used in rock, blues, country, jazz and many other forms of improvisational music.

Minor Pentatonic scales are most closely associated with rock & roll, and blues music. In fact, they're a real staple of these styles. Because Pentatonic scales have distinct sounds and relatively compact shapes on the guitar fretboard, you may already be familiar with them even if you're just starting out on the guitar. If not let's take a look at how the Minor Pentatonic scale is formed before we get into some licks.

Minor Pentatonic scales are based on the natural minor scale, with the 2nd and 6th scale tones omitted. To really understand what that means we should take a quick look at how minor scales are formed. We'll use the good old key of C as an example. A C minor scale is a C major scale with lowerd 3rd, 6th and 7th scale tones. By lowered, I mean "taken down by one half step". In guitar speak this is called "flatting" the note. A C Major scale, like all major scales, contains eight tones. Two of these tones are C's, the first and last. It starts on a C note, which is called the "root" of the scale. The second note is a D, followed by E (3rd), F (4th) G (5th), A (6th) B (7th) and finally C (octave, or root).You can consider this the "recipe" for a C Major scale.

A C Minor scale is derived from this scale, but it's 3rd tone is an E flat not an E. It's 6th tone is an A flat not an A, and it's 7th tone is a B flat and not a B. Therefore, because a C Minor Pentatonic scale is a C Minor scale with the 2nd and 6th tones omitted its' "recipe" is:

C (root), Eb, F, G, Bb, and C (root octave)

I know this is actually six notes, but we only count the C once. Take a listen to the following scales and check out the differences in the sounds.

Open Cm Scale
Cm Pentatonic
C Major Scale