The major pentatonic scale | Guitar lesson & diagrams

jazz guitar scalesAs its name implies the major pentatonic scale is made up of five notes, "penta" means five and "tonic" means notes. It is built with a root (1), major second (2), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and sixth (6). It is one of the most played scales.

C major pentatonic scale C D E G A
Formula 1 2 3 5 6
Intervals W W W+H W W+H


In comparison with the first mode of the major scale (ionian mode), the major pentatonic scale has the same notes except the fourth and the seventh. 

Major pentatonic scale 1 2 3 X 5 6 X
Major scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


In jazz music the two most played pentatonic scales are the major and the minor pentatonic scales. These two scales are related, they are built with the same notes so, guitar positions are the same only the root position is different. As you can see below the minor pentatonic scale starts on the sixth of the major pentatonic scale. You can also think that the major pentatonic scale starts on the minor third (b3) of the minor pentatonic scale. 

Major and minor pentatonic scales





Major pentatonic scale | Guitar fretboard diagrams

Here are five guitar fretboard diagrams representing the major pentatonic scale on the guitar. The note in orange is the root note.

It is very important to identify and memorize the position of the root for each diagram.

For example, to play a G major pentatonic scale using the first diagram you must place your second finger on the sixth string at the third fret.

Once you have memorized these guitar positions you have to transpose them by moving the root to the required note, while taking care of keeping the same intervals.

Playing the corresponding chord is a good way to assimilate the relation chord / Scale. You can play the major pentatonic scale over all major chords of course.

Remember that there are only five notes in the pentatonic scale and that the following diagrams are interconnected.

Position # 1

Major pentatonic scale guitar fingerings

Position # 2

Major pentatonic scale guitar position 2

Position # 3

Major pentatonic scale 3 guitar diagrams

Position # 4

Major pentatonic scale guitar position 4

Position # 5

Major pentatonic scale guitar diagram 5

Major pentatonic scale boxes

What are pentatonic boxes ?

Pentatonic scales are commonly grouped in five positions named "boxes" corresponding to the five pentatonic modes of the major pentatonic scale. Learning these "boxes" can be useful when you want to cover all the guitar neck.

Major pentatonic boxes

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Last edited: 16/01/2018

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