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The minor pentatonic scale | Jazz guitar lesson & diagrams

jazz guitar scalesPentatonic scales are commonly used in all styles of music all over the world. Present in jazz and blues music since their origins, they are the most important scales in jazz music. The minor pentatonic scale is the fifth mode of the major pentatonic scale (there are five different modes). It is the first scale to know for a guitarist exploring the wide world of improvisation, because it is easy to remember, easy to play and it sounds very good on a modal tune or a jazz blues (listen to Kenny Burrell or Grant Green).  As its name implies, it is made up of five notes ("penta" means "five and tonic means "notes").

As shown in the following table below, the minor pentatonic scale is made up of :

  • Root
  • Minor third
  • Fourth (eleventh)
  • Fifth
  • Minor seventh
A minor pentatonic scale A C D E G
Formula 1 b3 4 5 b7
Intervals W+H W W W+H W


The minor pentatonic scale has the same notes as the aeolian scale (also called natural minor scale) except the second and the minor sixth. Here is a comparison between these two scales.

Minor pentatonic scale 1 x b3 4 5 x b7
Aeolian mode 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7


The minor pentatonic scale is the relative minor of the major pentatonic scale. It means that the notes are the same.

Major and minor pentatonic scales





You can play the minor pentatonic scale over the following chords :

  • Minor (m)
  • Minor 7th (m7)
  • Dominant 7th (7)
  • Dominant 7th sharp ninth (7#9)
  • 7sus4
  • Sus4

Minor pentatonic scale | Position # 1

Here is the most used minor pentatonic scale guitar position, it is pretty easy to memorize because of its symmetrical form.

To hear correctly this scale, it is recommended to play this pattern by starting with the root "R". The root is the orange note in the guitar fretboard diagram.

As you can see there are three "roots", three "minor thirds", two "fourth", two "fifths" and two "minor sevenths" in this diagram.

To play the A pentatonic scale using this pattern you have to put your first finger on the sixth string at the fifth fret.

It's important to practice this scale in different keys, just move the root "R" to the desired note keeping the same intervals and fingerings.

Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 1

Minor pentatonic scale | Position # 2

This is another guitar position of the minor pentatonic scale. The lowest note (b3) is the second lowest note of the previous diagram. Keep in mind that these two positions are interconnected.

To play the A minor pentatonic scale using this pattern starting on the lowest note, put your second finger on the sixth string at the eight fret. What makes that the lowest root "R" will be located on the fourth string at the seventh fret.

Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 2

Minor pentatonic scale | Position # 3

This third position has its roots on the fifth and second strings. This one is also connected to the previous pattern.

To play the A minor pentatonic scale using this position starting from the fourth (4) you must place your first finger on the sixth string at the tenth fret.

Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 3

Minor pentatonic scale | Position # 4

Roots on the fifth string (tenth fret if you want to play the A minor pentatonic scale) and third string for this one. 

Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 4

Minor pentatonic scale | Position # 5

Three roots in this last guitar diagram, placed on the sixth, third and first strings. This pattern is connected with the diagram # 4 and # 1. 

Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 5

Kenny Burrell | Minor pentatonic jazz blues lick

This is a jazz, blues lick using the C minor pentatonic scale. This is a transcription of  Kenny Burrell's guitar solo in "Chitlins con carne" from the album midnight blue. Kenny Burrell played this line over the I of a twelve bar blues in C (Chitlins con carne) . You can take a look at the following link for more Kenny Burrell transcriptions.

You can listen to it in this video.

Kenny burrell pentatonic jazz lick

Soul jazz guitar lick | Bb minor pentatonic

Here is another soul, jazz guitar lick using notes from the Bb minor pentatonic scale. It starts and ends with a perfect fourth (F-Bb). Please note that the Bb pentatonic scale is made up of Bb-Db-Eb-F-Ab.

This lick is taken from the 25 SOUL JAZZ GUITAR LICKS eBOOK. (inclding audio files, backing track and printable PDF)

Soul jazz minor pentatonic guitar lick

Using the minor pentatonic scale over a II-V-I progression

This line shows you how to use the E minor pentatonic scale over a II-V-I progression. We will use three scales to play over this sequence, this is a basic approach. E minor pentatonic scale over Em7 (bar 1), A mixolydian mode over A7 (bar 2 ) (Mixolydian mode guitar lesson), D Ionian mode (major scale) over DM7 (Ionian mode guitar lesson).


Ii v i lick minor pentatonic scale


The II-V-I sequence is the most common chord progression in jazz music here are two eBooks to master this sequence :



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Last edited: 06/03/2017


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