How to play pentatonic scales on guitar (including charts and examples)

The pentatonic scale is one of the most widely used scales across different genres of music. The word pentatonic comes from the root word “penta”, meaning 5 or having 5 of something. As you may have already guessed, the pentatonic scales has 5 notes.

Knowing pentatonic scales helps to you create tasteful and melodic ideas for improvising over chord progressions.

In this lesson, we’ll cover the music theory on Major and minor pentatonic scales, learn at the scale shapes on guitar, and then go over musical application examples with tabs and audio. Let’s get started!

Major pentatonic scale formula

The Major pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes from the Major scale which are the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th scale degrees. For example, the C Major pentatonic scale has the notes C, D, E, G, and A.

Major pentatonic scales chart in all keys

The following chart shows what notes belong the Major pentatonic scale in all 12 key signatures.

Major pentatonic scale12356
C Major pentatonic scaleCDEGA
D Major pentatonic scaleDEF#AB
E Major pentatonic scaleEF#G#BC#
F Major pentatonic scaleFGACD
G Major pentatonic scaleGABDE
A Major pentatonic scaleABC#EF#
B Major pentatonic scaleBC#D#F#G#
Db Major pentatonic scaleDbEbFAbBb
Eb Major pentatonic scaleEbFGBbC
Gb Major pentatonic scaleGbAbBbDbEb
Ab Major pentatonic scaleAbBbCEbF
Bb Major pentatonic scaleBbCDFG

Minor pentatonic scale formula

The minor pentatonic is made up of 5 notes from the minor scale which are the root, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th and flat 7th degree. For example, the A minor pentatonic scale has the notes: A, C, D, E, and G.

Did you know that every Major pentatonic scale has a related minor pentatonic scales? If you play the Major scale pentatonic starting from the 6 degree, you get all the same notes of its relative minor pentatonic scale. For example, the C Major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic scale share the same notes.

Minor pentatonic scales chart in all keys

The following chart shows what notes belong the minor pentatonic scale in all 12 key signatures.

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

You can also check out this other lesson on how to play minor pentatonic scales on guitar to learn it more in depth.

5 pentatonic scale shapes on guitar

Now, let’s start learning the 5 pentatonic scale shapes throughout the guitar fretboard.

How to read the scale charts

For the charts below:

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

(Remember that the Major and minor pentatonic scale the same notes by starting on different scale degrees.)

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

Pentatonic shape 1

Pentatonic shape 1

Pentatonic shape 2

Pentatonic shape 3

Pentatonic shape 4

Pentatonic shape 5

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

Although you will need to change some shapes 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 here.

Connecting pentatonic scale shape examples

*Keep in mind that the following shapes can be shifted to any root note as long as it fits the fretboard depending on what scale you are playing. Adjust the notes for open strings whenever necessary.

Connecting shape 1

Connecting pentatonic scale shape 1

Connecting shape 2

All the pentatonic scale shapes on guitar

Here is what all the pentatonic shapes look like connected on the guitar fretboard. Shape 1 and 2 below show you different ways of looking at the scale but they are the same set of notes. You can play these shapes starting on any root note.

Shape 1

Shape 2

Pentatonic scale musical application examples

Example 1

This first example basically covers all of the notes in shape 5 over a chord progression written above the staff lines. This is to work on technique, memorization, and being able to hear the notes over a series of 7th chords. You can do this to review all of the scale shapes.

Pentatonic scale musical application example 1
Pentatonic scale example 1

Example 2

In the second example, we are also using shape 5 but this time trying to make a musical idea or theme with the scale notes. This is how you can begin to make the pentatonic scale your own. Try making your own melodies with the pentatonic scale like in this example below.

Pentatonic scale musical application example 2
Pentatonic scale example 2

Example 3

In example 3, we are playing the connected pentatonic shape 1 over a different series of chords. You can also try coming back down the scale.

Pentatonic scale musical application example 3
Pentatonic scale example 3

Example 4

In example 4, we are also taking the connected shape 1 but this time creating a short riff with the scale notes. We then repeat the same idea higher up on the fretboard.

Pentatonic scale musical application example 4
Pentatonic scale example 4

3 tips for memorizing the pentatonic scale shapes

Here are 3 quick tips to help you memorize the pentatonic scale shapes.

1. Master one shape at a time

The way I recommend learning and memorizing these scales is to start with 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

You want to look for patterns such as what strings repeat the same fingering within a shape.

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

For example, in shape 3 we see that the 1st, 2nd, and 6th string follow a 1 and 4 finger pattern. The 4th and 5th string follow a 1, 3, and 4 finger pattern. The 3rd string has the unique finger pattern of fingers 1 and 3.

Knowing where fingering 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.

Why use pentatonic scales?

Pentatonic scales can be thought of as an abbreviated way to play a Major scale that can be used as melodies, riffs, and improvisation in general. As you play learn to play and hear the notes of a pentatonic scale, you will notice a very familiar sound that is ingrained in modern, popular music.

You can create interesting patterns and musical ideas with just these 5 notes of the scale. You can also use them as a guide to move around the fretboard because they’re simplified versions of Major and minor scales!

Wrapping up

Learning pentatonic scales is a great way to improve your guitar playing because it allows you to think of scales more concisely and melodically.

The great thing is that once you learn the Major pentatonic scale, you essentially learn the minor pentatonic scale as well. They are related because they include all the same notes and shapes but you are starting in different places.

I recommend reviewing the charts from time to time so you can get a better grasp of all the shapes under your fingers. If needed, check out these 7 tips to learn all the notes on the guitar fretboard which will help you play pentatonic scales with more ease.

You might also want to check out how to play the blues scale on guitar after learning the pentatonic scale.

I hope you enjoyed the material and that you will continue to get more familiar using this fun and dynamic pentatonic scale!

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

“Penta-.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,

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