Pentatonic Scales Part 3

Our Pentatonic journey continues as we now explore jamming in any major or minor key. Armed with this knowledge you can play along to millions of youtube backing tacks from Rock, Metal, Ambient ballad or whatever other genre you’re into right now. What’s cool about getting to this point is that you’ll be able to jam over music that changes key, giving you fresh and exciting sounds to explore. So, if you’re getting sick of the A Minor pentatonic scale and want to start getting a bit fancy, today’s lesson is just for you.

Ok, here’s what we’ll cover in today’s lesson.

  1. How to play minor pentatonic in any minor key. This is pretty easy, if you know how you can just skip this bit.
  2. How to transform your minor pentatonic scales into major pentatonic. This also is pretty easy once you know how.
  3. The 12th Fret Rule How things repeat 12 frets away, and why this is a good thing.
  4. How to use our Pattern 1 and 4 in any major or minor key. This is where the fretboard gymnastics really begin.
  5. Pentatonic Solo #3. Engage your musical senses with another pentatonic solo, putting all of the above into the real world. Not going to lie, I always get excited about this bit, and I hope you do.

If most of this list is stuff you already know then feel free to jump down to the solo and we’ll catch up to you later.

For the rest of us…

A word of warning, try not to gloss over the smatterings of theory in this lesson. Understanding keys and the relationships between major and minor is very important to lead guitarists and improvisers everywhere!

Here’s the lesson guide with all exercises and examples for you to practise.

How to play minor pentatonic in any minor key.

We’ll need our Pentatonic Patterns 1 and 4 for this. If you don’t know them you may want to check out these posts first: Pentatonic Scales Part 1 and Pentatonic Scales Part 2.

Here’s Pattern 1:

We’ve learned it in the key of A minor.
It’s lowest root note (A) is on the 6th string in the 5th fret. Here lies the secret to changing key.

If we were to simply move up two frets and play exactly the same pattern, we’re now playing a B minor pentatonic scale, because our starting note on the fretboard in the 7th fret of the 6th string is… a B!

In example 1 below we play an Aminor pentatonic scale in the 5th fret followed by a B minor pentatonic solo in the 7th fret.

Example 1:

Notice how B minor sounds different? It still has that classic minor pentatonic sound, but it’s in a different key.

To be clear, we are dealing with two things here:

  1. The Root Note: The note that the whole key is built around and leads to. You could consider this the ‘starting note’.
  2. The Quality of the scale: In this case it is minor pentatonic, which sounds completey different to say the Major scale, which has a completely different quality.

So what if we played our minor pentatonic pattern 1 scale in the 3 fret? What would the starting note be?

The note in the 3rd fret of the 6th string is…?

Do you know?

If you said G then you are right!

Note: If you didn’t say G you might need to read ‘Unlocking the guitar fretboard’ where I explain how to find notes anywhere on the guitar.

If we begin our minor pentatonic pattern in fret 3, we will now be playing a G minor pentatonic scale! Check out Example 2.

Example 2:

If we played in the 6th fret, we would be playing…B flat minor pentatonic or A sharp minor pentatonic.

If we played it in the 10th fret it would be a…?

D minor pentatonic!

Whatever note our first finger plays on the 6th string for pattern 1 will be the name of the minor key we are playing in.

What about Pattern 4?

Good question!

The same thing applies, except in this case, the lowest root is on the 5th string, played with our first finger. See the image below.

If we were to play this pattern in the second fret, what key would we be playing?

Answer: B minor.

And here it is…

Example 3:

What if we were in the 7th fret? Answer: E minor.

Check it out…

Example 4:

To sum up:

To change the key of any scale we simply move the pattern up or down the fretboard, until it is in the key that we desire. We will achieve this by having the lowest root note the same as the letter name of the key we are looking for.

How to transform your minor pentatonic scales into major.

Here’s a massive bonus for you…

If we take Pattern 1 or 4 but treat a different note inside the pattern as the root note, we can convert the minor pentatonic patterns into major!

What’s great about this is we don’t need to learn any new patterns, we just need to know how to use them differently.

I’ll demonstrate this with the A Minor Pentatonic scale.

The notes are:

Now, if we play the exact same notes, but begin the sequence from the note C we get this:

This is the C Major Pentatonic Scale. Ta Da!!!!

So here’s two little theory rules:

  1. Playing the minor pentatonic scale from the second note creates a major pentatonic scale.
  2. Playing the major pentatonic scale from the fifth note creates a minor pentatonic scale.

If we play this scale over a C Major chord progression it sounds super happy, fitting and… well… major! Check out example 5.

Example 5:

Notice how well it fits?

You could also think of this as a C Major scale minus the notes F and B. Compare the two scales below.

C Major Scale:

C Major Pentatonic Scale:

Tweaking the Diagram

In the diagram below we have our good old Pattern 1, but I’ve put a circle around the Minor key Root note and a square around the Major key Root note.

So, to play C Major Pentatonic we just think of our pinky on the 6th string as the root, in the 8th fret.

Likewise, to play A Minor Pentatonic we use our first finger on the 6th string as the root in the 5th fret.

Now, you might be thinking something like this…

If A Minor Pentatonic and C Major Pentatonic have the same notes, can’t I just use one scale for both situations? Why do I need to know both? How will that help me?

Well, my friend, I was hoping you would ask that.

In a way, you’re right, the notes will fit. But here’s two reasons why I think this is worth knowing.

  1. If you play (and think) A Minor pentatonic over a C Major chord progression it will fit quite nicely, but you will most likley favour the note C as the root rather than the A, because it will sound more like home. In essence what you hear will actually sound more major than minor and your phrases will feel more settled around C rather than A.
  2. If someone says to you I am in the key of B major, but you only know minor pentatonic scales which one will you choose? You’ll be stuck! You’ll probably say something like…

“Um…I only know minor pentatonic scales so can you tell me which minor key I need?”

Firstly, this looks bad… and if it’s a jam with some other musicians, you may not even get the chance to work it out before the band starts…meaning when it’s your turn to solo, you’ll fumble around in different keys hopelessly trying to find something that fits, but after a train wreck of a solo, your turn is over and someone else is shredding away…with the right notes!

If you’d known that B major and G# minor were the related keys, you would have been fine. Better yet, if you knew what B Major pentatonic was you could have just used that, even though it is the same pattern and fingering as G# minor. This way you wouldn’t have to do any calculations in your head, you could just play it.

Moral of the story: Know both!

Let’s try this on pattern 4. Here’s the diagram with both Major and Minor root notes.

Pattern 4:

Once again the little finger is the starting note of the major key. That’s convenient!

So if we played pattern 4 in the second fret postion, we would be in the key of B minor pentatonic, or… D major!

The 12th Fret Rule

Here’s a great little trick about the guitar.

All patterns repeat 12 frets away.

So our good old A minor pentatonic scale that we know in the 5th postion can be played exactly the same way in fret 17!

Example 6: (There’s no audio for this, I think it’s better if you do this and listen for yourself how the same pattern sounds an octave higher.)

What’s happened is we’ve moved the entire up an octave. So without learning anything new, we can now play 1 pattern in more than one place on the fret board, this is really cool!

Use our two pentatonic patterns in any major or minor key.

So, now we can use Patterns 1 and 4 in major or minor keys. Let’s play something that encourages us to change key several times.

For the sake of keeping this really simple, we’re only going to ascend and descend our patterns. We’ll use Pattern 1 and 4 once before the key changes. We’ll save the fancy stuff for the solo at the end.

Here’s the progressions we will play over. Notice the key changes and how many bars everything lasts for.

Example 7: Key Changing Progression:

You can see above what key each part of this progression is in. We’ll simply play up and down each pattern in the correct key before moving on.

Despite this being a simple exercise in theory, changing keys can really lift a progression and keep it challenging and interesting.

You may also have picked up on the effect major or minor has on the emotional quality of the music.

Geek moment: When a song changes key it is called a ‘modulation’. The first section of this song is in A minor but then ‘modulates’ to Cm, then G major, and finally Bb major. This song ‘modulates’ three times.

Here we go:

Example 8:

Notice how pattern 1 is not always the lowest pattern? Depending on the key, pattern 4 is sometimes a better choice.

Pentatonic Solo #3.

Yippee! It’s that time again.

Now that we can get more milage out of our two patterns, here’s a solo for you to try over our previous chord progression. I’ll include fingering suggestions where appropriate, to help with transitioning from one key to the next.

Click here for the lesson guide.

Also, be sure to jam along with the extended backing track to really get this mastered.

If you find the solo too fast try the slowed down solo track.

Solo #3: Full Track (I show you)

Slow Solo #3 75BPM: Try this if you’re struggling.

Solo # 3: Backing Track (You do it)

Jam Track: (Extended version for you to jam over)

The other thing you could try is search for backing tracks in different keys and see how you go playing both patterns in the correct locations. You might even like to find some tracks that modulate a couple of times to keep you on your toes.

That’s it for now.

The next step in this series is adding another 2 patterns, which will open up the door to more of the fretboard and linking patterns mid phrase for that professional touch. See you in Pentatonic Scales Part 4.

About the author

I'm really excited to be teaching guitar. Not many people receive the joy that I feel when seeing the progress of each of my students. It's truly a privilege, and I'd love you to join me.  

As I'm sure you know, learning guitar is a long journey, so you must be committed to it. But, if you're willing to put in some hard work for some big rewards, come and join me! 

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