Category Archives: Music Theory

Five Major & Minor Pentatonic Patterns for Guitar

Soon after you start learning the guitar, you’ll come across the term ‘Pentatonic’. It’s one of those things guitarists spend a lot of time working on and talking about. The word literally means five tones, so it won’t surprise you to find out that pentatonic scale (both major and minor) consist of five notes.

For the major pentatonic scale, these notes are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale. For example, the C major pentatonic scale is C D E G and A (missing out F and B from the standard major) as shown below:

Pentatonic - C Major

For the minor pentatonic scale, these notes are the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th notes of the natural minor scale (i.e. without the raised 7th of the harmonic minor). For example, the A minor pentatonic scale is A C D E and G (missing out C and F) as shown below:

pentatonic-a-minor

What is the Major Pentatonic Scale Good For?

As I said, guitarists love pentatonic scales. The main reason for this is that, if you are looking to improvise a solo (or just a short fill) during a piece, the notes of the pentatonic scale in the key the piece is written in will sound good.

Don’t believe me? Give it a go! Get someone to play the chord of C major and try improvising over it using the notes C D E G and A. For a bit of an edgier, blusier sound, try improvising over it with the C minor pentatonic notes: C, Eb, F, G and Bb. (NB. the C blues scale is very similar to the minor pentatonic, adding only the note between F and G: F#)

The reason pentatonic scales work so well for improvisation is that the two dissonant notes (the 3rd and 7th) are removed. These two notes are dissonant because they are only a semitone distant from the 4th and root notes.

As a little exercise, listen to any guitar solo, whether it’s blues, metal, rock, country or whatever, and pay attention to how much of it is made up of pentatonic scale notes. There will be a lot!

The Major Pentatonic Patterns

To help with your progress in learning the guitar, here are the 5 major pentatonic scale patterns for you to memorise. Try them out in different keys.

  • The key is set by the root note, shown in blue.
  • The red numbers show the other notes in the major pentatonic scale.
  • The grey numbers are notes in the scale, but outside complete octaves.
  • The numbers suggest which fingers to use – which frets you use depend on which key you are in (e.g. to play pattern 1 in G, the lowest note is fret 3 on the low-E string).
pentatonic-scale-1

Major Pentatonic Pattern 1

pentatonic-scale-2

Major Pentatonic Pattern 2

pentatonic-scale-3

Major Pentatonic Pattern 3

pentatonic-scale-4

Major Pentatonic Pattern 4

pentatonic-scale-5

Major Pentatonic Pattern 5

The Minor Pentatonic Patterns

You will note that the minor patterns are almost identical to the major ones – the only difference is that the root note has shifted down one place (e.g. C to A). This is because major scales and natural minor scales contain exactly the same notes, except that they also start on a different note. C major, for example, contains the same notes as A natural minor as shown below:

c-major-a-minor

Both remove the dissonant E and B to form their pentatonic scales.

Here then are the minor pentatonic patterns. Colour / numbers as for the major ones above.

 

pentatonic-minor-scale-1

Minor Pentatonic Pattern 1

pentatonic-minor-scale-2

Minor Pentatonic Pattern 2

pentatonic-minor-scale-3

Minor Pentatonic Pattern 3

pentatonic-minor-scale-4

Minor Pentatonic Pattern 4

pentatonic-minor-scale-5

Minor Pentatonic Pattern 5

This post is probably long enough now, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to do so below.

Scales, Arpeggios and Triads for Piano

major-minor-scalesWhile scales, arpeggios and triads may not sound like the most trilling of subjects, if you’re serious about learning the piano, they’re essential.

Not convinced? Let me try to persuade you with a few handy bullet points:

  • Playing scales is a great work out for your fingers – especially if played with a firm steady action rather than raced through, skipping lightly over the keys. As such, they develop dexterity (small motor skills), hand strength (which is vital for good tone control), endurance and, therefore, confidence.
  • Because the notes are more spread out in arpeggios, they are great for stretching the finger muscles and increasing the reach of both hands, while the turning of your wrists will develop greater fluidity in your playing.
  • Played correctly, triads build the strength of your lower hand muscles (those at the base of your thumb and the little finger). They also help to fix hand shapes of all chords into your muscle memory and develop combination finger control.
  • As Western music is built around major and minor scale tonality, knowledge of scales, arpeggios and triads will allow you to have a firm grasp of how music works.
  • If you intend playing rock, pop or country songs, or similar, you’ll not only need the ability to play chords in all their inversions, but also an understanding of what chords go with which keys and why. Scales, arpeggios and triads will equip you with all these things.
  • There will be times when you need to play  a piece or song in a different key from the one it’s written in. At such times, you need to be able to transpose the music quickly and confidently. This is only possible if you know how each major and minor key is put together – which notes should be sharps and flats, which keys are closely related and so on. If you know your scales, you’ll nail it!

This is by no means an exhaustive lists, it’s just the first six things that came to mind. If you want to know how else scales, arpeggios and triads can benefit your piano playing, the best way is to find out for yourself.

To this end, I have put together a six page PDF with all 12 major and minor scales, together with their arpeggios and triads. These are all written out as single octaves, but the fingering is such that adding extra octaves is a simple matter of repetition.

Here’s the PDF: Major and Minor Scales.pdf

Enjoy! You never know, they just might turn out to be fun as well as hugely beneficial.

Single Page Guide to Reading Music for Piano

Reading Piano MusicMost music pupils, when faced with the challenge of learning to read music, seem to view it somewhere between witchcraft and learning a foreign language – either of which is somewhat daunting!

Thankfully, learning to read music is nothing like either of these… or anything in between.

Musical notation is a simple and logical system used to write down music so it may be played in a similar style by others.

When learning to play piano (or any other keyboard instrument), you will be presented with the grand stave – two groups of 5 lines. The vertical position of notes relates to their position on the piano. The horizontal position and type of note (crotchet, semi-breve etc.) relates to when they are played and for how long.

The single-page PDF, linked below, is an introduction to reading music on the piano (though it also relates to many other instruments).

Introduction to Notation for Piano.pdf

If you have any questions on this or any other aspect of learning the piano, please do contact me here.