Minor Pentatonic: Essential Information

Difficulty: Spectrum

The Minor Pentatonic scale is often the first scale that people learn. This is because it is easy to play, very very useful and is the basis of much blues and rock improvisation.

Pentatonic Scales have just 5 notes (most of the other common scales have 7) and used in many different styles and are found in many different cultures around the world. Most of us will be familiar with it through the Blues, which went on it influence many other styles. Interestingly, Blues music breaks many rules of music theory and as the Minor Pentatonic is the most commonly used scale in that style, it's also a 'rule breaker' - perhaps that's why it's so common in Rock music? Or maybe it's because the Devil himself taught this scale to Robert Johnson at the crossroads back in the 1930's? Or maybe it just sounds great :)

The good ol' Wikipedia has lots of the technical information well presented on the Pentatonic Scale. I love Wikipedia, I just learnt some new stuff about it myself.

Scale Formula

The scale formula for the minor pentatonic can be a useful thing to know if you want to work out the notes in any given minor pentatonic scale. The formula describes the interval distances between each note of the scale.

 
TS
 
T
 
T
 
TS
 
T
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
1


T = Tone [whole step] • S = Semitone [half step] • TS = Tone + Semitone (minor 3rd interval)

Note that the scale is made up of two sequences of TS T joined by a T. This might help you remember it!

Comparison With Major Scale

Scales are always compared to the Major Scale to find the intervals used.

 
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Major
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
C Minor Pentatonic
C
 
Eb
F
G
 
Bb
C
Equation
1
 
b3
4
5
 
b7
1

Chords In The Key

The "Chords In The Key" of a Minor Pentatonic are a little strange because it is often used in a Blues context which doesn't stick to the rules!!

Power Chords
Used in Rock music the Minor Pentatonic is often used over Power chords with a root note in the scale. It's not quite 'theoretically correct' but it sounds great so therefore it is great!

Extended 'Power' Family
In the extended family I've included chords that the scale would still be commonly played over but are not chords that come from the scale but are in popular usage!

Proper Chords
I couldn't think of a better term than 'proper' but what I mean is 3 note chords starting with a root note in the scale. The Minor Pentatonic works great over all these bad boys!

Extended Family
Now we're getting into sketchy territory!! People play the Minor Pentatonic over these chords all the time - but they shouldn't!! Playing C Minor Pentatonic over a C Major chord, or C7, should sound terrible, but it sound GREAT, amazing, cool and bluesy. The F and G Major Chords can also be F7 and G7 which (with the C7) are the commonly used chords in a blues. Totally shouldn't work, but it does, and there ain't no theory that says why! It's just cool :)

 
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Minor Pentatonic
C
 
Eb
F
G
 
Bb
C
Power Chords
C5
 
Eb5
F5
G5
 
Bb5
C5
Extended 'Power' Family
C5
D5
Eb5
F5
G5
A5
Bb5
C5
'Proper' Chords
Cmin
 
EbMaj
Fmin*
Gmin
 
BbMaj
Cmin
Extended Family
CMaj
Dmin
EbMaj
FMaj
GMaj
Amin
BbMaj
CM7

* Note that the Fmin using only notes from the scale would be Fsus2 or Fsus4, I was going to but F Major in, but as that seemed to fit better below I included Fmin here because many people use that too!

Further Reading

To understand the Scales and how to use them properly you will get great benefit from a solid grounding in basic music theory like you'll get in my ebook Practical Music Theory. You'll learn all the rules that the Minor Pentatonic breaks :)

Most commonly this scale is used in blues so you might like to check out my Blues Lead Guitar Course too!

Minor Pentatonic Scale

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