Major Pentatonic: The Five Patterns

The Major Pentatonic is a really cool sounding scale, used a lot in country and country blues, and also great for playing over regular chord progressions that would usually take the Major Scale.


With each scale I have discussed my preferences for fingering the scale. There are many approaches and so long as you have a logical one, it will be fine. I have a 'system' that works for me, and might work well for you too, but you need to experiment and find out what works best for you!

I also added notes on alternative shapes and fingerings that I know are in common usage and my reasons for choosing the ones I do. There is no right and wrong.

Tips for learning scales quickly, easily and perfectly

    Don't make any mistakes. Play it 10 times perfectly at a very slow speed and you will find you can speed it up without making mistakes and developing bad habits you will have to correct later.
    Do not let your fingers "fold", use the tips the whole time, and definitely NO barres at any point. Ever.
    This will help train your ears into hearing the sound of the scale, very important. So start on the lowest (in pitch) root note, play up as far as you can, then go back down as low as you can, and then back up to the root note.
    It is very important that you learn all five of these patterns... eventually, but please learn to make music with them. Much much better to be able to use one scale shape and play a solo than play five up and down and not be able to do make music with any them :)

Root Notes

A root note gives the scale it's name. Look at any of the scales and arpeggios (and most chords) on this site and you will see an R on some notes. This is note that gives the scale it's note name.

For example
Look at Pattern 1 below and notice that the R is on the 6th string (played with Finger 2). Whatever note you put that one becomes the name of the scale. So place Finger 2 at the 3rd fret and you will play the G Major Scale (because the note on the 3rd fret of the 6th string is the note G). Place Finger 2 on the 8th fret and you will play the C Major Scale (because the note at the 8th fret of the 6th string is the note C).

The Scale Shapes

The big deal with The Major Pentatonic scale has the same visual shapes as the Minor Pentatonic so it is ESSENTIAL that you focus on where the ROOT note is.

Major Pentatonic Pattern 1

Pattern 1 (CAGED: E shape)

This shape has many cool blues licks in it, should be the second shape you learn.

I often see people playing the thinnest two strings with the 2nd and 4th fingers. Makes sense if the idea was just to lay it fast but this scale is mostly used for blues, where you will bend a lot and want good control over the notes, hard to achieve with little finger. I'm confident that this is the best fingering.

Major Pentatonic Pattern 2

Pattern 2 (CAGED: D shape)

This is sometimes thought to be quite a hard position to solo in... it is until you learn some funky licks from this position, then it will be your friend.

Sometimes this one is played with just 1st and 3rd fingers all the way. That can be cool, but harder lower down the neck when the notes are further apart.

Major Pentatonic Pattern 3

Pattern 3 (CAGED: C shape)

Lots and lots of cool licks in this position...

The most common alternative is play the two notes on the 2nd string with 1st and 3rd fingers. Not a bad plan but can be hard to play fast. Sometimes first string is also played with 1st and 3rd fingers.

Major Pentatonic Pattern 4

Pattern 4 (CAGED: A shape)

This is a funky position, can seem hard at first but again it has some cool licks in it if you look around enough.

I often see this played with the fingering 2,4 / 2,4 / 1,4 / 1,4 / 2,4 / 2,4 which I think is useless. Using the two weakest fingers for two thirds of the scale is ludicrous.

Best alternative is to use 1st and 3rd fingers all the way. Or...

Use 1st and 3rd for strings 1, 2, 5 and 6 and 1st and 4th for the middle string.

Major Pentatonic Pattern 5

Pattern 5 (CAGED: G shape)

This is the most commonly learnt scale position. It is pretty easy to play.

Sometimes the notes on the first and second strings are played with the 3rd finger. I often play it that way, particularly further up the neck where it can get a bit cramped. This is also good for doing string bending as you will AWAYS bend with your 3rd finger. But the version shown is better to learn first, especially as this may be the first scale you ever learn. :)

Major Pentatonic Scale