The Minor Pentatonic Scale | Guitar Lesson with Diagrams

What Are Pentatonic Scales?

Pentatonic scales are built with five tones. They are used in all many styles of music. Present in jazz and blues music since their origins, they are the most important scales to master when you start playing guitar. The best known are the major and the minor pentatonic scales but there are many others.

What is The Minor Pentatonic Scale?

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 who wants to explore the wide world of improvisation. Indeed, the minor pentatonic scale very 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).  

Minor Pentatonic Scale Formula

As its name implies, the minor pentatonic scale is made of five notes ("penta" means "five and tonic means "notes"). Giving the interval pattern  Root (1) - minor third (b3) - fourth (4) - fifth (5) - minor seventh (b7).

A minor pentatonic scale A C D E G
Formula 1 b3 4 5 b7
Intervals W+H W W W+H W

Difference Between Major Pentatonic and Minor Pentatonic

The minor pentatonic scale interval pattern is 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7 whereas the major pentatonic scale formula is 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6. They have only two chord tones in common, the root (1) and the fifth (5).

Relative Major

The minor pentatonic scale as a relative major which is the major pentatonic scale. Meaning that these two scales are built with the same notes.

Major and minor pentatonic scale 1

The minor pentatonic scale starts on the sixth of the major scale. Conversely, the major scale starts on the b3 of the minor scale.

The two guitar shapes below show the relation between the A minor pentatonic scale and its relative major (C major). As you can see their can be two pentatonic scale in the same pattern. The root note determines the tonality.

 

Minor pentatonic scales guitar relative major

Difference Between Minor Pentatonic Scale and Minor Blues Scale

The minor blues scale is no more and no less than the minor pentatonic scale with a supplementary note. You need to know that there are three types of minor blues scales depending on the added note. The most used is the minor blues scale with a b5 between the fourth (4) and the fifth (5).

 

Minor pentatonic scale vs minor blues

 

The second type of minor blues scale has a major third (3) between the b3 and the fourth.

 

Minor pentatonic scale and minor blues 1

 

The third type has a major seventh (7) between the b7 and the root.

 

Minor pentatonic scale vs minor blues with 7

 

How To Play The Minor Pentatonic Scale On Guitar?

There are many ways to play the minor pentatonic scale on guitar. The most simple is to play it within the space of one octave starting from the root note (R). Ascending and descending.

You see that the diagrams have the lowest root on the sixth, fifth, fourth and third string. Try to play them in all twelve key by associating chords.

Minor pentatonic scale one octave shapes

Minor Pentatonic Scale | One Octave Shapes

These two guitar neck diagrams show you how to play the minor pentatonic scale within two octaves in order to cover the six strings.

Minor pentatonic scale two octave shapes

Five Positions of The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale can be learned using what is called "Boxes". Each boxe of the diagram represent a minor pentatonic scale position. This technique is very handy when you want to practice diagonal playing and position shifts.

5 Easy Minor Pentatonic Patterns

The first two patterns are built with the G minor pentatonic scale (G - Bb - C - D - F).

Minor pentatonic scale guitar pattern 2

Minor pentatonic scale guitar pattern 1

 

Here are three other lines built with the A minor pentatonic scale (A - C - D - E - G).

Minor pentatonic scale guitar pattern 4

Minor pentatonic scale guitar pattern 5

Minor pentatonic scale guitar pattern 3

Minor Pentatonic Scale And Chords

Basically, minor pentatonic scale are played over minor chord types as : minor (m), minor 7 (m7), minor 11. Here are five examples that show how to mix the minor pentatonic scale with minor seventh chords. 

The first lick is based on the A minor pentatonic scale linked to a drop 3 min7 chord.

Minor pentatonic scale and guitar chords 1

 

This second tab uses the D minor pentatonic scale and a drop min7 chord.

Minor pentatonic scale and guitar chords 4

 

D minor pent. with a drop 3 min7 chord with root note on the sixth string.

Minor pentatonic scale and guitar chords 2

 

G minor pentatonic scale with a Gm7 drop 2 voiced with root on the fourth string.

Minor pentatonic scale and guitar chords 3

 

E minor pentatonic with drop 2 Em7 chord.

Minor pentatonic scale and guitar chords 5

Minor Pentatonic Scale Over II V I Progressions

Here are three exercises showing how the minor pentatonic scale can be used in a major 2 5 1 progression.

In the first example you will play D minor pentatonic scale over the ii chord (Dm7). 

Minor pentatonic 2 5 1 lick 1

As you can hear in the lick below, playing Bb minor pentatonic over G7 outlines interesting altered tones as the b13, b5, #9 and b9.

Minor pentatonic 2 5 1 lick 3

In this last line Em pentatonic is played over Dm7 in order to highlight the ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13).

Minor pentatonic 2 5 1 lick 2

Soul Jazz Guitar Line 

Here is a soul, jazz guitar lick using notes from the Bb minor pentatonic scale (B- D- Eb - F - Ab). It starts and ends with a perfect fourth (F-Bb). This lick is taken from the 25 SOUL JAZZ GUITAR LICKS PDF Method 

Soul jazz guitar minor pentatonic lick

Kenny Burrell | Minor Pentatonic Jazz Blues Licks

Here are 10 easy guitar lines using the C minor pentatonic scale transcribed from Kenny Burrell's guitar solo on "Chitlins con carne" from the album midnight blue. 

10 easy Kenny Burrell Jazz Guitar Licks | Chitlins Con Carne | Lesson with Tabs

Chitlins Con Carne - Kenny Burrell

Chitlins Con Carne is a jazz blues tune in C7 mainly built with the C minor pentatonic scale. It's a nice example to demonstrates how the minor pentatonic scale can be played on an entire blues tune and mixed with dominant chords.

Boogaloo Boogie - Big John Patton

Boogaloo boogie is one of the most famous tune of Big John Patton jazz, blues organist. It has been recorded by Stanton Moore with guitarist Charlie Hunter on the album "All Cooked Out". The theme contains a repetitive G minor pentatonic line mixed with some rootless dominant seventh chords and chords in fourths.

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Last edited: 10/13/2020