In a previous edition of this mighty column I've shown you diatonic scale patterns that cover the entire neck of the guitar in one particular key. I used the key of C major for that example because it has no sharps or flats and is therefore easier to deal with. If you missed that column, go to: Scales Are Everywhere, Know em or Not
As you hopefully will remember there are seven different diatonic scale patterns - one beginning on each different note of a diatonic scale. Pentatonic scales are more or less a shortened version of a diatonic scale. In fact, the only difference between a major diatonic scale and a major pentatonic scale is that the major pentatonic pattern leaves out the fourth and seventh notes of the diatonic form of the same major scale. Seven minus two equals five, hence the "penta" part of the name pentatonic.
So now I'm going to show you the five pentatonic scale patterns that make up the key of C major. Compare them with the seven diatonic patterns covered in the previous column and you'll see how they relate. It shouldn't be too difficult to determine which of the seven diatonic patterns don't have a corresponding pentatonic pattern (duh, it's the diatonic patterns that begin on the fourth and seventh notes of the scale). Most people only know one pentatonic pattern, and they think that's all there is to pentatonics. Not so.
Just so you can see the relationship, here is the C major diatonic scale shown on the whole neck and also the entire neck diagram of the C major pentatonic: (Again, for the breakdown of this entire neck worth of C major notes into more manageable chunks, see Scales Are Everywhere, Know em or Not)
See the similarities?
The Five Patterns
OK, here is the breakdown of the five individual pentatonic scale patterns in the key of C. With a little experimentation (and a little mental exercise), you'll figure out how to use these patterns in other keys. As I advised in the column on diatonic scales, you should practice each of these five patterns individually, up and down the guitar neck, until your fingers always play the right notes for that pattern. Drill the patterns into you head and your hands with repetition. Later, when you solo, your fingers will know where to go. Pray that your ears will follow.
Here is pattern one, built on the third note of the C major diatonic scale:
This pattern starts with open strings, which can be tough, but remember to slide it up 12 frets and learn it up high on the neck too. It's a very useful pattern.
Here is the second pattern, built on the fifth note of the C scale:
Here is the third pattern of the C major pentatonic pattern, built on the sixth note of the C scale:
Look familiar? You know this as the A pentatonic scale right? It's actually the A minor pentatonic pattern.
Have you heard of the concept of relative major and minor keys? A minor and C major are the exact same scale so we say they're relative to each other (A minor is the relative minor of C major; C major is the relative major of A minor). I'll discuss more about relative majors and minors and what it means to you in a future column.
Here is the fourth pattern of the C major pentatonic pattern, built on the root note of the C scale.
And here is the fifth pattern of the C major pentatonic pattern, built on the second note of the C scale.
That's All Folks!
There you have it: the five pentatonic scale patterns. Move 'em around the neck and figure out where to put them for different keys, just like you did with the seven diatonic patterns. What? You didn't move those around the neck and figure out how to play those seven patterns in different keys? What are you waiting for?
This stuff ain't hard. Life is passin' you by. Learn your scales.