The Major Pentatonic Scale Across the Fretboard (w/guitar lick examples)

Pentatonic scales are popular in many genres of music and like its minor counterpart the major pentatonic scale is used in Country, Pop, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Reggae and Folk among others. 

In this lesson you will learn the 5 major pentatonic scale patterns that cover the whole guitar fretboard.

With each pattern you will be given a guitar lick that uses notes from that pattern. Finally, you will be given a short guitar solo that does away with individual patterns and uses notes from all over the fretboard.

Major pentatonic scale theory

The major pentatonic scale has the same notes as its parent major scale, just two less.

These notes are the 4th and the 7th degree of the scale. These are F and B if we’re in the key of C.

C major:                          C    D    E    F   G    A   B  (C)

C major pentatonic:      C    D   E          G    A       (C)

Now, you may ask, what’s the point in learning a scale that’s like another scale with two notes less? Can’t I just learn the parent scale?

There are two main reasons why you may want to learn pentatonic scales:

1: Ease of use. The 4th degree of the scale is a semitone higher than the preceding note (E – F) while the 7th degree is a semitone lower than the root (B – C).

By removing these two degrees you’re removing any interval of a semitone from the scale. While this interval is very useful when it comes to melody creation, it needs to be resolved to sound good. This may be hard for beginners of improvisation and solo composition. Pentatonic scales are easier to use since you can’t hit a “wrong note”- or rather, a note that is left unresolved.

Note: Though beginners in guitar soloing are more likely to use pentatonic scales for this reason, advanced guitarists sometimes resort to pentatonic when they need to think fast. For instance if a session guitarist is expected to come up with something on the spot, to a backing track with a lot of chord changes, and a chord chart he has just been given, he may decide to play safe and use pentatonic scales.

Needless to say, virtuoso guitar players like Steve Vai and John Petrucci are unlikely to need to use pentatonic scales for this reason, but there’s another reason why this scale is used.

2: By removing those two notes, the scale gets a sound flavor of its own. Guitarists may choose to improvise in the major pentatonic scale, rather than the parent scale to get its particular sound. (This also applies to the minor pentatonic scale).

Major pentatonic scale on guitar

Now that you know why you should learn the major pentatonic scale on the guitar, let’s dive into learning the 5 patterns that cover the whole fretboard.

In these examples you are given the patterns of the C major pentatonic scale. If you want to play the scale in another key, simply play the same patterns starting from the root note of that key.

Pattern 1

The first C note on the fretboard is found on the third fret of the A string.

Major pentatonic 1

This lick makes use of notes in this pattern of the C major pentatonic. It uses three guitar techniques, a pull off between the first two notes, a slide, and vibrato on the last note.

Major pentatonic 2

Pattern 2

Start the next pattern with your small finger on the 8th fret of the low E string.

Major pentatonic 3

You may notice that this pattern has the same notes as the A minor pentatonic scale starting on the 5th fret of the low E string.

How are these different scales if they have the same notes?

The difference between the two is that when we’re playing the C major pentatonic scale, the root note, home, is the note C, while in the A minor pentatonic scale it is A. 

For instance in the next lick, the first and (more importantly) the last notes are C, thus emphasizing the tonality of C major.

Major pentatonic 4

Pattern 3

The next pattern starts from the same note as the previous but moves in a different direction. Start with your index finger on the first note.

Major pentatonic 5

The next lick introduces string bending, one of the most powerful techniques available to electric guitar players.

Major pentatonic 6

Pattern 4

Start this pattern with your index finger on the 10th fret of the D string.

Major pentatonic 7

The next lick makes further use of string bending technique.

Major pentatonic 8

Pattern 5

Start this pattern with your small finger on the 15th fret of the A string.

With these 5 major pentatonic guitar scale patterns we have all the fretboard covered. To play further down the neck simply play the first pattern with your index finger on the 15 fret of the A string.

Major pentatonic 9

The next lick starts with the arpeggio of C major, bends and releases the note D and finishes on the root note C. 

Major pentatonic 10

Major pentatonic guitar solo

Learning a scale in isolated patterns and using it should be the first step.

The next step is to connect scale patterns and use them to come up with licks and solos all over the guitar neck.

The following is an example guitar solo that makes use of the C major pentatonic scale without the pattern restrictions.

Major pentatonic 11

Conclusion: Where to go from here

Now that you know how to play the major pentatonic scale over all the guitar fretboard, rather than go for the next scales to learn, I suggest you take some time to get fluent in the scale, such as by applying sequences to it and using it to improvise guitar riffs, licks and solos.

This approach should be used when practicing anything on the guitar since what really matters is not how much you know, but how much you can use in real musical situations.

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