How to play minor pentatonic scales on guitar (5 shapes, examples and patterns)

The minor pentatonic is a dynamic 5 note scale which you’ve probably heard in multiple songs across different genres. It is one of the essential guitar scales to get better at improvisation because of its versatility and unique sound that can make your playing stand out.

In this lesson, we cover the five minor pentatonic scale shapes, how to connect them throughout the fretboard, and patterns you can use to take your improvisation to the next level.

This lesson will include guitar tabs and audio to help you learn the material much easier.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Minor pentatonic scale formula

Let’s first go over some basic music theory behind the minor pentatonic scale before learning the shapes. The 5 scale notes in the minor pentatonic scale are the root, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flat 7th scale degrees. You can think of these as notes which come from the minor scale.

The following formula shows you the distance between each note of the scale. You can use this formula to start on any root note. Whole steps are abbreviated to ‘w’.

All minor pentatonic scales use this same formula (1.5w, w, w, 1.5w, w). For example, using this formula, an A minor pentatonic scale has the notes A, C, D, E, and G.

Minor pentatonic scale chart in all keys

The following chart shows what notes belong the minor pentatonic scale starting on all 12 root notes.

Minor pentatonic scale1b345b7
C minor pentatonic scaleCEbFGBb
D minor pentatonic scaleDFGAC
E minor pentatonic scaleEGABD
F minor pentatonic scaleFAbBbCEb
G minor pentatonic scaleGBbCDF
A minor pentatonic scaleACDEG
B minor pentatonic scaleBDEF#A
Db minor pentatonic scaleDbEGbAbB
Eb minor pentatonic scaleEbGbAbBbDb
Gb minor pentatonic scaleGbABDbE
Ab minor pentatonic scaleAbBDbEbGb
Bb minor pentatonic scaleBbDbEbFAb

Relation to the Major pentatonic

Did you know that the Major and minor pentatonic scales are related to each other? By starting on the second note of the minor pentatonic scale you actually play the same notes of the Major pentatonic scale.

For example, an A minor pentatonic scale has the same notes as a C Major pentatonic scale. Another example, an E minor pentatonic scale contains the same notes as the G Major pentatonic scale.

As a side note, the formula for the Major pentatonic scale includes these degrees: 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. All we’re doing is shifting the way you look at the starting point.

Minor pentatonic scale formula

You can also check out this other lesson for an overview of both Major and minor pentatonic scales.

When can you use the minor pentatonic scale?

The minor pentatonic scale can be used anywhere you would play a minor scale. For example, try an A minor pentatonic scale where you would normally play an A minor scale. You can think of the minor pentatonic scale as the minor scale without the 2nd, and 6th degrees. ‘H’ represents half steps between two notes.

You can compare these two scales in the formulas below.

Minor scale and minor pentatonic scale formula

Minor pentatonic scale shapes

Since the notes of a scale repeat in several areas of the guitar fretboard, we need to learn the minor pentatonic scale in five different shapes. Learning the following shapes gives us the flexibility to play the scale anywhere on the fretboard.

You can think of these as positions but since they will be shifted depending on what key you are playing, I prefer to think of them as movable shapes instead. Each shape is written in consecutive order so you can continue playing the scale as you move up the fretboard.

You can use any root note to play these shapes. After looking at these shapes, we’ll cover scale application examples in different keys.

How to read the scale charts

For the charts below:

  • The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E). 
  • The purple circles represent the root note of the minor pentatonic scale and the blue notes are every scale note in between. 
  • The numbers inside the circles represent the suggested fingering to use on your fretting hand.

If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.

Shape 1

minor pentatonic scale shape 1

Shape 2

minor pentatonic scale shape 2

Shape 3

minor pentatonic scale shape 3

Shape 4

minor pentatonic scale shape 4

Shape 5

minor pentatonic scale shape 5

One thing to note about using these shapes is that whenever you have scales that use notes with open strings, you have to rearrange your fingers to play the shape. For example, if the shape uses the fingering 1 and 4 on one string, you can play (open string) and 3 instead. 

Although you will need to change some fingerings if you include open strings, once you move over to the next shape where you’re fretting all the notes, you will get back to the original shapes we covered.

Minor pentatonic scale examples

In this section we’ll apply the five pentatonic scale shapes to different keys including audio files. I highly recommend you learn the notes on the fretboard to be able to shift the scale shapes to any key.

Note that these examples will not all start on the root note so that you can practice learning different scale shapes.

E minor pentatonic scale

This first example of the E minor pentatonic scale follows scale shape 1 but the fingering is adjusted because of the open strings. As mentioned earlier, if you use open strings, fingering 1 and 4 would become 0 and 3.

E minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

C minor pentatonic scale

This example also follows shape 1 and now includes all fretted notes which we saw in the original shape 1 chart.

C minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

G minor pentatonic scale

This is an example of a G minor pentatonic scale using shape 2.

G minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

D minor pentatonic scale

This is a D minor pentatonic scale using shape 3.

D minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

F minor pentatonic scale

This is an F minor pentatonic scale using shape 4.

F minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

A minor pentatonic scale

This is an A minor pentatonic scale using shape 5.

A minor pentatonic scale example with tabs

Minor pentatonic scale patterns

These patterns are different ideas that you can use to practice the minor pentatonic scales after learning the shapes. These pentatonic patterns can help you explore ways to make the scale sound more musical as opposed to just playing up or down the scale.

These examples will be based on shape 1 of the A minor pentatonic scale.

Consecutive 3 note pattern

Minor pentatonic scale - 3 consecutive note pattern

Consecutive 4 note pattern

Minor pentatonic scale - 4 consecutive note pattern

Consecutive 5 note pattern

Minor pentatonic scale - 5 consecutive note pattern

String skipping pattern

Minor pentatonic scale - string skipping pattern

Connecting minor pentatonic scale shapes

After learning the 5 scale shapes, we also want to be able to connect them throughout the fretboard.

This section gives you some ideas of how you can connect the shapes we covered using repeating patterns with similar fingerings.

Again, you can choose any root note for these connecting shapes wherever it’s applicable to fit these on your fretboard, and always adjust fingerings and notes if you are using open strings.

Minor pentatonic connecting shape 1

Minor pentatonic scale connecting shape 1 chart

Here is an example of the connecting shape 1 using the A minor pentatonic scale.

Minor pentatonic scale connecting shape 1 with tabs example

Minor pentatonic connecting shape 2

Minor pentatonic scale connecting shape 2 chart

Here is an example of the connecting shape 2 for an E minor pentatonic scale.

Minor pentatonic scale connecting shape 2 with tabs example

3 tips for memorizing the minor pentatonic scale shapes

1. Master one shape at a time

The way I recommend learning and memorizing these scales is to start memorizing one shape that feels most comfortable for you. Try to really get the shape under your fingers to the point of not having to look at the chart. Use the first shape you master as a guide to learn the other scale shapes around it.

2. Look for repeating fingering patterns

Try to think of patterns such as what strings repeat the same fingering within a shape. For example, if a certain string set has a pattern of 1, 3, and 4, which other strings follow the same pattern? Or think of which strings only include 2 notes within a shape.

Quick tip: The notes on the first and sixth string will always be the same.

Knowing where note patterns repeat will help you build a mental map of a scale shape.

3. Connect shapes around the ones you learned

After getting one of the shapes down really well, either learn the shape that comes before or after it to see how the scale connects on the fretboard. Again, try to master one shape at a time and make sure you can play it without looking at the chart. This will make the process more approachable by breaking it down into smaller sections before moving on to the next shape.

Bonus: Minor blues scale formula

If you want to make the minor pentatonic scale sound more bluesy, you can simply add one half step note in between the 4th and 5th degree to play a minor blues scale.

The formula for a minor blues scale is 1, b3, 4, #4, 5, and b7.

minor blues scale formula

To learn about this scale more in-depth, check out this lesson on how to play the blues scale on guitar.

Wrapping up

The minor pentatonic scale is a dynamic and versatile improvisational tool that can be used across a variety of musical genres. Once you learn the five scale shapes, it becomes easier to connect the notes of the minor pentatonic scale across the fretboard as well as being able to play it in different keys.

I recommend practicing your scales over a backing track if possible. This can help you to hear the character of each note and learn what notes you may want to highlight in your improvisation.

To learn more, check out these 9 tips to get better at improvising on guitar.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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