Pentatonic Scales

Guitar Scales

Guitarists of all levels play melodies, riffs, solos (leads) and bass lines using scales. By definition a scale is a set of musical notes in order by pitch, either ascending or descending. Scales create patterns on the fretboard which players visualize and memorize. Music is made by playing through a scale pattern in different directions, sometimes skipping or repeated notes. Usually technique such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and bends are used for tonal variation.

What Scales to Learn

Of all the different kinds of scales to learn, and there are many, there’s actually only two that comprise most of popular music. The most common, and most fundamental, is the Major scale. From the Major scale is derived the simpler Pentatonic scale. Knowing and understanding how these two types of scale patterns work on the guitar neck is absolutely essential to playing and understanding music.

Scale Theory

Learning only two scales may seem like an easy task, but there’s more to it than that. You see, while there’s only two groups of patterns for the Major and Pentatonic scales, there are several different ways of applying (theory) the patterns to music and this requires a specific kind of instruction and knowledge. For example, pentatonic patterns can produce a major, minor or blues tonality depending on how a player applies them. Major scale patterns can produce seven possible sounds called modes.

Listen to some of the sounds the Pentatonic scale can make.

Pentatonic Scale Songs MP3

Listen to some of the sounds the Major scale can make.

Major Scale Songs MP3

Not just for Riffs, Solos, Leads and Bass Lines

The purpose of learning how to play scales isn’t solely for playing guitar solos, leads, etc. Even if you’re strictly a rhythm player you can make good use of occasional scale phrases. You can even add scale tones to old chords and create new sounds. All instruments utilize scales including voices. Many songs have vocal melodies, keyboard parts, horn parts and more that are based on scales. These things can be worked out and arranged on your guitar if you have learned scales correctly.

Pentatonic Scale Patterns

Start with the Pentatonic scale. This scale has simpler patterns and is much easier to apply than the Major scale. Memorize and practice the 5 Pentatonic patterns one at a time, slowly connecting them to cover the whole fretboard. Move the patterns to new positions and transpose into different keys. Develop your facility with common techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and bends. Listen to and learn actual songs that use the scale. Practice playing the scale (jamming) over different progressions and songs. Detailed instruction for these steps and more can be found in Fretboard Theory Chapter 2 The Pentatonic Scale and Getting Started with the Pentatonic Scale DVD. Click on the links for more details including free previews.

1 of 5 Pentatonic scale patterns. Notes are played in order by pitch, either ascending or descending (see notation and tablature below). Patterns are to be memorized. Fretboard diagram and notation example taken from Fretboard Theory.

Pentatonic Scale Songs

The following list is just a short sample of songs that all have a prominent Pentatonic melody, riff, solo or bass line. Many of these examples are easy to play even for beginners. This list is taken from Fretboard Theory.

Susie Q Creedence Clearwater Revival…………………………………………………………Gtr. Riff
Green River Creedence Clearwater Revival…………………………………………………Gtr. Riff
Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix…………………………………………………………………………Gtr. Riff
Are You Gonna Go My Way Lenny Kravitz……………………………………………….Gtr. Riff
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) Jimi Hendrix…………………………………………….Gtr. Riff
Back In Black AC/DC………………………………………………………………………………..Gtr. Riff
Man in the Box Alice In Chains……………………………………………..Gtr. Riff/Vocal Melody
Play That Funky Music Wild Cherry………………………………….Bass & Gtr. During Verse
Paranoid Black Sabbath……………………………………………………………………………..Gtr. Solo
Hey Joe Jimi Hendrix…………………………………………………………………………………Gtr. Solo
Turn Off the Light Nelly Furtado……………………………………………………………….Gtr. Solo
Pawn Shop Sublime…………………………………………………………………………..Bass, Gtr. Solo
Good Times, Bad Times Led Zeppelin……………………………………………………….Gtr. Solo
Honky Tonk Woman The Rolling Stones……………………………………………Intro Gtr. Lick
Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd……………………………12-String & Lead Gtr. Intro, Bass
Sweet Home Alabama Lynyrd Skynyrd…………………………………………Gtr. Intro & Solos
Centerfold The J. Geils Band……………………………………………………………………….Gtr. Riff
Cannonball Duane Eddy……………………………………………………………………………..Gtr. Riff
Amazing Grace Hymn………………………………………………………………………..Vocal Melody
Lowrider War………………………………………………………………………………………………….Bass
Born Under a Bad Sign Cream……………………………………………………………………….Bass
Lady Marmalade Patti Labelle………………………………………………………………..Bass & Gtr.
Money for Nothing Dire Straits………………………………………………………………….Gtr. Riff
I Shot the Sheriff Bob Marley/Eric Clapton……………………………Gtr. Riff at Chorus End

Major Scale Patterns

After you’re comfortable playing and using the Pentatonic scale you can follow similar steps while learning the Major scale. Fretboard Theory Chapter 5 The Major Scale will help you accomplish this. Also, Chapter 6 will teach how the major scale is used to build chords, map out progressions and play by numbers. Chapter 7 explains roots, keys and applying scales. Chapter 8 will illuminate modes in a manner that is easy to understand. Chapters 9 and 10 will cover intervals and extensions, also derived from the Major scale.

About Scale Books

Beware the book with page after page of different patterns and scales. Remember, music mainly uses Pentatonic and Major scales. Most other scales are useless and you needn’t waste time learning them. When you focus on the different ways of playing and applying the Pentatonic and Major scales correctly you’ll have 99% of the music you listen to covered. That’s the truth! If you want to explore the other 1% later then you’ll have the proper foundation to do it.

Free Guitar Tab

Subscribers to the Fretboard Theory preview will receive free tab to the mp3 examples posted above. I’ve included special details along with the notation that correspond to what Fretbooard Theory teaches about scale patterns, keys and major/minor tonalities. These songs range from beginner level through advanced and make perfect exercises for developing technique. The better you learn these and play along the more you’ll train your ear too!