Getting to know your guitar scales is a great step to improvising and writing lead lines. Knowing your scales is also helpful in generally understanding lead lines and riffs from the songs you love.
This lesson goes of the major pentatonic scale shapes. As the name would suggest, these are pentatonic scales based on the major scale. You should probably learn minor pentatonic scales before the majors, so if you haven’t done that yet, check it out! Assuming you know minor pentatonic scale shapes, you’ll probably see some very similar shapes here. That’s not a coincidence.
What Is A Pentatonic Scale
Penta means 5, so a pentatonic scale is a scale with 5 notes in it. A “normal” scale has 7 notes in it, so this scale is taking away 2 of those notes.
The major pentatonic scale is made up of the notes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. So it’s missing the 4th and the 7th degrees of the scale.
How The Major And Minor Pentatonic Scales Are Connected
The 6th degree of a scale is the relative minor of a given major key. So, for example, Am is the relative minor of C. Conversely, the relative major of a minor key is the 3rd (which will be a flat 3rd since it’s a minor key). So, using the same example, the relative major of Am is C.
These relative minors/majors share the same notes, they’re just in a different order, with the natural minor having a flat 3rd, flat 6th, and flat 7th.
So, knowing this, you can probably already see how the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales are linked. If you know a minor pentatonic scale shape, you can change it to a major pentatonic scale shape by starting on the b3rd of that shape. So, while I’ll go through all of these shapes, you should already know them all.
How To Read Scale Diagrams
The biggest differences here is that each finger position represents a single note to be played. I’ve also shown the root note in red with notes from the corresponding chord shape in green. This should help you remember where you are in the scale and with general note finding.
Keep in mind that you can play these shapes in any position on the fretboard. I always suggest learning new scales in the 5th position as it’s kind of neutral. But it’s up to you.
Here Are The Five Major Pentatonic Scale Patterns
Take me to the scale pattern
All of the major pentatonic scale patterns correspond to the basic open guitar chord shapes. As mentioned, these shapes are the same as the minor pentatonic shapes, but they have different names because they’re major! And of course the root falls in a different place.
The first thing to note, since the root is in a different place, is that when practicing these scales up and down, you start and finish in a different place.
The second thing to note is that the names of these shapes aren’t all exactly named after the relative major of the minor shapes. If you’re looking at relative majors for the minor shapes you have Em/G, Am/C, Dm/F, Gm/Bb, and Cm/D#.
Obvious F shape, Bb shape, and D# shape for the basic chords aren’t a thing; it’s just a quirk of the fact that the guitar is tuned in 4ths with one interval of a 3rd that we can’t get a perfect one-to-one naming convention.
That being said, call these shapes whatever you want! Since I learned the minor shapes first, I usually call the shapes by their minor name and just know that the 3rd of the scale is the relative major shape.
E Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern
It may be slightly difficult to spot the E shape barre chord here, but imagine you’re barring across the second fret in the figure; the coloured dots correspond to the chord shape. See it now?
Can you also see the Dm shape hidden in here too? Hopefully this is giving you a better appreciation of how the guitar is tuned and how all the chord shapes fit together.
A Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern
As with the E major shape, it may be difficult to see the A chord here a first, but image a barre chord across the second fret.
Can you also see the G shape in here (with a little bit of modification)? The G minor pentatonic scale shape is obvious here, but if you move the the second finger on the 5th string up a fret, and do a barre across the 1st fret, you’re starting to get a G minor chord shape.
D Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern
The D shape guitar chord is pretty obvious here, but can you find the corresponding C major shape? As with the last diagram, if you shift the second finger on the 4th string up a fret, you’re creating a major 3rd between with the note on the 4th fret, 5th string. Then barre across the 1st fret. This may be difficult to get your head around at first, but understanding how all this comes together gives you a better understanding of the general fretboard anatomy as well as how chords are stacked.
G Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern
The G major chord is pretty clear hear, isn’t it? As is the E minor chord if you go to the minor pentatonic scale article and see the highlighted chord tones. I may be hammering it home a little hard, but this really makes it clear how relative majors/minors work. Hopefully this is a little bit more clear than the other examples.
C Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern
Hopefully it’s all becoming pretty clear by now…
That’s major pentatonic scales. As mentioned, if you already know the minor pentatonic scale shapes, these should be easy to learn. You already know the patterns, so now it’s just a matter of remembering where the root note is for the major version of the scales. And it’s easy to remember where the major root is, it’s just the second note of the minor pentatonic scale!