How To Play Minor Pentatonic Scales

At some point, as we venture down the road to following in our lead guitar heroes’ footsteps, we have to come up against learning how to play scales.

In rock and blues playing, there is one scale in particular that has become a mainstay and a go to for building licks - the minor pentatonic scale.

Keep reading to find out what notes are in the pentatonic scale and how to play it across the fretboard..

The minor pentatonic scale is a series of 5 notes. The scale itself has 5 unique shapes that extend around the fretboard, but for the purpose of getting started in this lesson we will just focus on the first shape of this pattern.

The scale, like chords, is given its key association by the root note (the lowest pitched note in the scale). As we are playing this in the key of E Minor we are starting from an E note which is our low E string played open.

What Notes Make Up the E Minor Pentatonic Scale?

The 5 notes that make up the E Minor Pentatonic scale are E, G, A, B and D.

You can work out what notes form this scale in other keys in the same way by changing the root note.

Here is the scale, ascending, as a guitar tab starting from an E root note:

E Minor Pentatonic Scale

Although there are more than 5 notes played across the whole scale, you are only actually hitting E, G, A, B and D notes in recurring 5 note groups both ascending and descending.

Scales are transposable on guitar, meaning we can take the shape of the scale and move it to a new root note and change the key. When the length of the fretboard allows, we can also take the same shape up an octave. In the key of E Minor, we can do this.

Start the scale shape at the E note on the 12th fret of the Low E string and you have the same scale an octave higher. The 12th fret notes replace your open strings and the notes on the 14th and 15th frets replace your 2nd and 3rd fret notes. The notes that make up this shape are the same.

E Minor Pentatonic Scale Octave

Once you get the shape of the pentatonic scale under your fingers, you can move it to different root notes to take your playing into different keys.

What is a Relative Key?

Every key, be that major or minor, has another key that shares the same notes. These are known as relative keys. You may hear the term relative major or relative minor thrown around. The relative major key for E Minor is the key of G Major. This means the key of G Major shares all the same notes as E Minor. You can use this scale over a G Major backing track too. We will cover that in more detail in a future lesson.

Remember, one great thing about this scale being transposable is that if you come up with a lick in one position, you can move it to another key, and it will still work.

E Minor Pentatonic Backing Track

Check out the backing track to accompany this video and test out a few licks yourself.

This PMT College lesson was brought to you in partnership with, and written by experienced guitar teacher Leigh Fuge. Leigh works as part of a community of guitar teachers based across the UK. Click here to find a teacher near you.