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The Pentatonic Scale

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Previous page: Scale Harmonization and Chord Construction Next page: More Chord Construction Using the Major Scale

Lessons of The Week was a series of guitar lessons circulated in "News", in the pre-web days of the Internet. 29 lessons were written before it died out, and I happende to write the first three. They represent a little bit of internet history, as they may have been the first guitar lessons written for the internet.

The lessons were all written in txt format - they were written around the same time as Tim Berners Lee were sitting in Switzerland specifing the first version of html. I have converted them to html, and may have added a few links from the lessons.

Lesson: 5
Title: The Pentatonic Scale
Level: Beginner - Intermediate
Style: Theory
Instructor: Bill Quinn

Hello, I'm Bill. I've thought a lot about the '1st lesson' but the only thing that really makes sense is to just jump right in. For those of you who know the pentatonic scale - this will surely be a nice review, for the rest of you, get ready for the 1st step in playing lead.

The guitar makes learning scales easy! To most players, a scale is just a memorized fingering pattern. Sure, the pattern contains notes, and the notes have names, but its still just a pattern. I will use the term 'pattern' to refer to a set of places (frets) on the guitar neck where you will find the notes in a scale.

Here is a pentatonic pattern:

E ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|-----|--O--|-----|
B ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|-----|--O--|-----|
G ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|--O--|-----|-----|
D ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|--O--|-----|-----|
A ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|--O--|-----|-----|
E ||-----|-----|--O--|-----|-----|--O--|-----|

The picture shows a 'top view' of a right handed neck. The horizontal lines are strings and the vertical lines are frets. The letters to the left side of the 'neck' are the string names (and tunings).

The O's are the places to play. We will soon see that this pattern is one of many ways to play a pentatonic scale. Remember we are really talking about patterns *NOT* scales.

Another look at the pattern:

		E ||-----|-----|--1--|-----|-----|--2--|-----|
		B ||-----|-----|--4--|-----|-----|--5--|-----|
		G ||-----|-----|--2--|-----|--3--|-----|-----|
		D ||-----|-----|--5--|-----|--1--|-----|-----|
		A ||-----|-----|--3--|-----|--4--|-----|-----|
		E ||-----|-----|--1--|-----|-----|--2--|-----|

The numbers represent each unique note in the pattern. If we start on the bottom string and play from left to right, we will be playing the notes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2). There are only 5 unique notes! No duh? That's why it's called a PENTA(meaning 5) TONIC(meaning note or tone) pattern.

Now what? Well, as most experienced players will tell you, this is the pattern to learn. Although there are *MANY* ways to memorize the notes in a pentatonic scale, this is the most common way to do it.

I will leave you with the following exercises in TAB to help you get familiar with the given pentatonic pattern. Next week, we will take a look at octaves and more pentatonic fingerings. In a couple of weeks we will give the pattern a good work-out by having a technique/lick lesson.

exercise: (playing the pentatonic scale at the 5th fret)


exercise: (play '3 notes down' then 'back up')


exercise: (skipping strings)


Practice each of these to a metronome at a tempo that is easy - then work the tempo up until you can't play the exercise. Make note of your highest tempo at each practice session and always try to improve!

See ya next week!

Previous page: Previous page: Scale Harmonization and Chord ConstructionNext page: More Chord Construction Using the Major Scale Next page:

Previous page: Next page:
Previous page: Scale Harmonization and Chord Construction Next page: More Chord Construction Using the Major Scale