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The Most Important Scale You Need For Learning Guitar Part 2 - The Major Pentatonic Scale

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

In part 1 of this series of articles we looked at the minor pentatonic scale and more importantly, how you can begin to understand not just scales but the relationship between notes by thinking of them as intervals. Intervals are of course are very useful to guitar players as understanding the fretboard is often easier to achieve through the use of shapes (scale patterns and chord shapes for example) rather than by learning the notes. Of course, learning the notes are useful too but as shapes are movable you can begin to quickly understand more about the relationship between the theory and the sound much quicker this way.

Of course the minor pentatonic scale is limiting because, surprise surprise, it's in a minor key. Here is where we need to learn the major pentatonic scale to give your playing the flexibility to play in both major and minor keys. Here is an example shape of the major pentatonic scale.

Look familiar?

For those in the know this is also the shape for the 1st position of the minor pentatonic scale. However the intervals are different. Firstly, the root note is in a different place. In the above diagram, if it were being used as a minor pentatonic scale, the root note would be an A note, indicating that the scale would be an A minor pentatonic scale. The above major pentatonic scale has it's root note as a C which indicates that the scale is a C major pentatonic scale.

Secondly there are a different set of intervals being used.

R - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6 - R

This is different to the minor pentatonic scale which has the following set.

R - m3 - 4 - 5 - m7 - R

Note that the 3rd and 7th intervals are preceded with an 'm' to indicate that they are the minor varient of that particular interval, compared to the major varient.

Ultimately though if both scales are the same notes then shouldn't they both sound the same? Well, yes. If you were to play a C major pentatonic scale followed by an A minor pentatonic scale you would hear the exact same, notes therefore the exact same sound. However it's the context that they are used in that makes the difference.

For the next part you will need a backing of a chord. Record yourself playing an A minor chord over and over again. Play the scale over the top of this and listen. Does the scale sound major or minor? Next, record and C major chord and do the same. How does the scale sound now, major or minor?

From this point on I'll be using the notes names for this scale (I said they were important didn't I!). They are..


If you listen carefully you will hear that the scale sounds good over both chords but in different ways. Here is where theory and listening relate to each other and it is therefore important to have an understanding of both. In an A minor chord the notes are A C E. Therefore when you play the scale over the A minor chord backing the notes where the scale sounds the most resolved or the most 'right' are the notes of the chord itself. Similarly, if you play over a C major chord which contains the notes C E G, the same sort of thing happens.

Looking at both chords there really only is one note difference, the root. If you want to hear the difference even more, improvise a short phrase that ends on the root note of the chord that you are playing over. The difference should be quickly apparent.

The best thing about this is that all the positions for the minor pentatonic scale will work as major pentatonic scales. All that is needed is to know the position of the root notes in the scale (and the note names on the neck) to be able to reference where to use them.

The next article on this will be on how to take pentatonic scales and turn them into full major scales, minor scales and modes!

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