Minor Pentatonic Scale
This is the most common scale in blues, pop and rock music.
It is easy to learn and is essential for learning to improvise in a blues style. ‘Penta' means five and ‘tonic' means note, so ‘Minor Pentatonic Scale' really just means ‘Minor Five-Note Scale'.
The reason we learn scales is that they are groups of notes that sound really good together that we can use to make up solos (as in lead guitar) and melodies. We'll get to that later on. They are also great for developing your technique for playing single notes, so they are an important part of your development as a guitar player.
A minor pentatonic
We are going to learn the scale in the key of A, so, the A minor pentatonic scale. This is used to solo over a Blues or a song in the key of A minor, and we will be learning a 12-Bar Blues in the key of A very soon, so practise this scale now so you are ready to jam when we get to that.
It is a great scale to start with as an introduction to playing single notes on the guitar.
Make sure you only pick one note at a time. Only use down-picks to start with; later, try to play using alternate picking (alternating between down and up picks).
The Scale Box
The scale shape can be played on any fret, and the scale gets its name from the note under the R (root note).
To play it in the key of A - which is what you should do now - you should start with your 1st finger in the 5th fret.
For this scale, all the notes in the 5th fret are played using the 1st finger, all the notes in the 7th fret are played with the 3rd finger and all notes in the 8th fret are played with the 4th finger.
It is important that you get this scale 100% correct on the first few times you play it. You can only achieve this if you practise slowly enough to really get it right. Have a go at it now. Take is slowly and get it right. Don't start practising the wrong thing, there is no sense in that!
Play the notes in the order shown opposite.
TAB and Notation
Play the notes in the order shown above.
When you learn it play it very slowly and get every note sounding clear. It should sound something like this:
Getting it right
Check that your fingers are not lifting far off the fingerboard. Try to keep all your finger movements small, and most importantly accurate.
Most guitarists use this scale, from Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix to Steve Vai. Learn this scale well and you will use it for the rest of your guitar playing days! So spend a bit of time with it and get it right.
If you can get to alternate picking this scale you should notice that all the notes fretted with your 1st finger will be picked with a down-pick and the rest with an up-pick. It's an easy way to check that you are doing it right!
Use a metronome and play along with it, one note with each click. Try around 50bpm to start with, playing one note for every two clicks if you need to. Try and speed it up, gradually making it faster. When you get to 160bpm, cut it down and do two picks for each metronome click at 80bpm and slowly work up the tempo.
Once you have it comfortably under your fingers, feel free to move it up and down the neck. See the little R on the scale diagram? That's the root note, and as with power chords, where you put that note decides the name of the scale. For instance, if you play the scale starting with your 1st finger in the 10th fret you'll be playing a D Minor Pentatonic. Cool, huh?
Fingerstyle (no pick) players can either use only the thumb (like Wes Montgomery did), alternate between your first and 2nd fingers (like Segovia did) or a mixture of thumb and fingers (like Jeff Beck does). It's really up to you. I really do recommend learning to use a pick as well for this kind of thing, but if you really don't get along with them then you'll have to experiment a bit. There is such a thing as thumb pick too which many fingerstyle players use that works like a pick (check out Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel).
This scale is awesome for learning to improvise blues lead guitar over a 12- Bar blues sequence, which is coming up in Stage 8. For the time being, get working on this, try and get it smooth and memorise it so you're ready to go when we get to that.
Next up we're looking at some more tunes.