A neat trick to remember pentatonics

The Cmaj chord in guitar, with bass in G

Image via Wikipedia

The minor pentatonic must be the most widely used scale when it comes to soloing and improvisation. There are many methods to learn it, usually involving boxes around the fretboard. I recently discovered a better method.

The minor pentatonic has only 5 notes, and its shape is really simple. It’s just a cross:

..*..
*.*.*
..*..

Every character in the above diagram represents a fret. Asterisks are frets inside the pentatonic and dots outside. It’s played as follows:

  1. Play ‘A’ with your 3rd finger, Bass E string, fret 5
  2. Play ‘C’ with your 1st finger, A string, fret 3
  3. Play ‘D’ with your 3rd finger, A string, fret 5
  4. Slide with your 3rd finger to reach ‘E’ in fret 7
  5. Play ‘G’ with your 1st finger, D string, fret 5
  6. Place your 3rd finger on fret 7 and continue from step 1

This pattern can be continued two more times. Then we reach the last string. There is also another position where you can start the cross pattern. Start from string A, fret 12, and continue on …

The only place where the pattern breaks is between strings G and B, because of the standard guitar tuning. When going from G to B, go one more fret to the right, and do the opposite when going from B to G.

It goes without saying that all minor pentatonics can be played this way. Just put the 3rd finger on any note and start the cross pattern. The scale’s root will always be the “tail” of the cross.

Major pentatonics can be played as easily as minors. You just start the pattern with your first finger from the “left hand” of the cross. For example to play the C major pentatonic all you have to do is start from step 2.

Although I also recommend studying the standard boxes for scales, this method has many advantages:

  1. It’s ridiculously easy to memorize
  2. You are using only fingers 1 (index) and 3 (ring) which are the stronger
  3. If you let the slide (in step 4) ring, you get a beautiful chromatic pass by the “blue note”. This will also remind you where that note is
  4. It covers the entire fretboard

… and one and two …

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4 thoughts on “A neat trick to remember pentatonics

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