making music with marshall

pentatonic scale positions

The importance of learning your scales as a guitarist is paramount, this will be the foundation for every riff, lick and melody you write. Once you’ve got some of the most common scales down, it’s easy to find yourself noodling in one position and your licks being centred around that box shape, but if you learn each pentatonic scale position, you can open up the fretboard up for more fluid playing and speed. We look at the five positions of the Major and Minor pentatonic scales in the key of A, but keep in mind these positions can be moved to the relative root notes.

Posted: 22nd June 2021

Scales explained

Put simply, a scale is a series of notes that fit within a key, the notes played will depend on the key and whether it’s minor or major.

There are variants of each key such as melodic minor, but for this article we’re focusing on Pentatonic scales. The difference between pentatonic and melodic is that pentatonic only has 5 notes per octave (hence the name) whereas most scales will have seven notes. For more information on common guitar scales check out part 6 of our Making Music with Marshall series

minor pentatonic

First up, we’ll look at the minor pentatonic. An easy way to remember this scale is to note that the very first note of position 1 will be the root note, so find the note you want to start with on the E string and you’re good to go! For this example, we’ll be in the key of A so the root note is on the 5th fret of the E string. You’ll find the root notes marked in black on the charts below.

Major Pentatonic

Compared to the minor pentatonic, the major pentatonic will have a more uplifting, positive sound. Interestingly, the Major and Minor pentatonic are the same depending on which note is the root note. For example, a song can use either the C Major or A Minor pentatonic scale, which scale it’s labelled as is dependent on the songs key. The difference will be in the order of the positions and their relative root note. The positions below show C Major, notice that Position 5 is the same as Position 1 in the relative A Minor key.

Connecting the dots

Now you’ve learnt each position of the scale, the next step is to start connecting each position. Try sliding into each position from different strings to get comfortable bridging the gap and then as you build up speed you’ll be able to incorporate different positions into your solos and licks.