What one scale is responsible for launching more guitar music than any other?
If you want to play guitar and hate scales, this is the one scale that you should know inside and out. Ask any guitar hero. The minor pentatonic scale just simply can’t be ignored.
Entire careers have been built around the minor pentatonic scale. In blues music, this scale shows up in countless songs and riffs. It’s the backbone of the blues scale itself. There’s no telling where the blues would be without this scale. The minor pentatonic scale is simply the bedrock of the blues sound.
To say this scale is popular is an understatement.
When I first picked up the guitar, I hated learning scales. The only thing worse than learning them was practicing them. I just wanted to play licks. So, I played licks. This was long before the days of YouTube, so I learned anything I could from a TAB book or a friend. Life was good.
After a while, I found myself wanting to write a lead part or jamming with friends and I couldn’t find the right notes. Even though I could play long solos from some of my heroes note-for-note, when I was on my own….I stunk.
I couldn’t apply what I learned in the TAB books to improvising. I could replicate, but I could not innovate. That’s when I realized the need for learning those dreaded scales.
I cringed at the very thought of learning any music theory. But, I fought it long enough. It was a epic battle, but I finally surrendered to learning scales. But with so many scales to choose from, it got complicated. Quick.
I needed to keep it simple.
Simplify Your Guitar Playing with 5 Notes
To the newb, and even the intermediate guitarist, the fretboard can be an impossible maze full of confusion at every turn. With well over 100 choices to physically place your fingers on the fretboard, guitarists need a way to cut to the chase.
Enter the minor pentatonic scale.
Pentatonic means, 5 note scale. And if you’re like me, cutting the options down to 5 notes on the fretboard sounds like a dream! Seems like I’m not the only one that prefers a little simplicity on the fretboard. This simple scale has been used by nearly all guitarists that you and I love.
Why is the Minor Pentatonic Scale so popular?
In a word, the minor pentatonic scale is so popular because of its versatility. It sounds great in tons of musical situations. It just plain works!
The reasons are deeply rooted in music theory, which I’ll spare you for now. But, suffice to say, this scale avoids certain scale tones that sound off when played over popular progressions.
The minor pentatonic scale is the Swiss Army Knife of guitar scales. <– Click to Tweet This!
In blues, the minor pentatonic scale can get you by in a ton of situations. I said “get by”, not become a guru. Still, I believe the first step to becoming a lead guitar guru is learning the minor pentatonic scale.
So let’s take a look a the scale in A minor.
The scale formula is: 1 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b7 which in A gives us the notes:
A – C – D – E – G
Note: Finish up on the octave for a total of 6 tones.
Put the Minor Pentatonic Scale to Work
Later, we will look at effective ways to learn this scale all over the fretboard and really get it imprinted in your brain. But for now, let’s take a look at these five notes in action.
What’s the Catch?
The catch is that everyone learns this same scale, then everyone learns licks from their favorite player based on this scale. So how do you stand out? How do not end up sounding like everyone else?
Remember that a scale is just a pattern of notes that anyone can regurgitate. As a beginner, focus on doing just that -regurgitating. but as you begin to write your own lick or as you begin improvising, remember this:
Think of the notes of a scale as different colors of paint. We can all use the same colors, but how we put them together on the canvas distinguishes the artist.
“It’s been very important throughout my career that I’ve met all the guys I’ve copied, because at each stage they’ve said, “Don’t play like me, play like you.” – Eric Clapton
You can use this to play like Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I urge you to use it to sound like you!
Can you come up with a short lick using these five notes form the A minor pentatonic scale?