How to play the A minor pentatonic scale on guitar (5 shapes)

Last updated on June 19th, 2024

In this lesson, we’re covering how to play the A minor pentatonic scale on guitar by learning the 5 scale shapes on the fretboard as well as the music theory to help you understand how it works.

The pentatonic scale is a powerful 5 note scale that you can use to create tasteful and melodic ideas for improvisation. If you missed the lesson on the difference between Major and minor pentatonic scales, check it out here.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Minor pentatonic scale formula

If you already know the minor scale, learning the minor pentatonic scale is very simple. The minor pentatonic scale is made up of these 5 notes which come from the minor scale: the 1st, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flat 7th scale degrees.

For example, the A minor pentatonic scale has the notes A, C, D, E, and G. This is essentially the A minor scale without the 2nd and 6th scale degree.

You can also create the scale using a whole and half step formula between each note. The minor pentatonic scale formula would be 1.5 whole steps, whole, whole, 1.5 whole steps, and a whole step. See the example below.

A minor pentatonic scale formula

Or, you think of the notes in the scale in terms of intervals related to the root note. The intervals in the minor pentatonic scale are: unison (with the root note), minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, and minor 7th.

As a side note, the A minor pentatonic scale shares the same notes as the C Major pentatonic scale.

Now that we covered the music theory, let’s start learning the 5 scale shapes throughout the guitar fretboard.

5 A minor pentatonic scale shapes on guitar

This section covers each minor pentatonic scale shape throughout different sections of the guitar. Each shape includes music notation with guitar tabs to show you what fingers to use when playing the scale.

How to read the scale charts

For the charts below:

  • The left side of the charts shows you the scale notes and the right side shows you the suggested fingering.
  • The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E). 
  • The green circles represent the root note of the 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.

Scale shape 1

A minor pentatonic scale shape 1

For the notation below, the numbers above the notes suggest what fingers to use for your fretting hand.

A minor pentatonic scale shape 1 notation

Scale shape 2

A minor pentatonic scale shape 2
A minor pentatonic scale shape 2 notation

Scale shape 3

A minor pentatonic scale shape 3
A minor pentatonic scale shape 3 notation

Elevate your guitar skills with the Minor Pentatonic Guitar Scales Chart!

This chart includes the 5 essential scale shapes to help you learn and memorize the scale in all keys.

The chart has an easy-to-follow layout and a guide for fingering symbols!

Add this essential resource to your musical toolkit and start improving your improvisation and overall guitar playing today!

Scale shape 4

A minor pentatonic scale shape 4
A minor pentatonic scale shape 4 notation

Scale shape 5

A minor pentatonic scale shape 5
A minor pentatonic scale shape 5 notation

Connecting A minor pentatonic scale shapes

Finally, here is what the A minor pentatonic scale looks like across the entire fretboard if we connect all the shapes.

A Minor pentatonic scale shapes combined

3 tips for memorizing the minor pentatonic scale shapes

Here are 3 quick tips to help you memorize the 5 minor pentatonic scale shapes.

1. Master one shape at a time

The way I recommend learning and memorizing any scale is to start with one shape that feels most comfortable for you. Try to really get the shape under your fingers to the point where you don’t have 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

Look for patterns such as what strings repeat the same fingering within a shape. 

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 3rd, 4th, and 5th string follow a 1 and 3 finger pattern. 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 learning one of the scale shapes well, either learn the shape that comes before or after it to see how the notes connect 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.

Wrapping up

We covered how to play the 5 scale shapes to play the A minor pentatonic scale. It may seem challenging to break out of your comfort zone if you’re used to playing the pentatonic scale in one area but it will be worth learning! 

You can then use these shapes to start on different root notes to help you apply this scale over different key signatures!

If you enjoyed this material, check out how to play the blues scale. To dive deeper, I recommend this lesson on how to practice scales on guitar.

📘 Get the free guitar practice guide here!

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