Skip to main content
  1. Refs/

The Minor Pentatonic scale and its modes

·4 mins

Overview #

Normal scales have 7 notes (not including the repeating octave note). The minor pentatonic scale is a minor scale with only five notes: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7.
The third and the seventh notes are lowered.

In Western notation: Do, Me, Fa, Sol, Te. (note: minor Mi is Me and minor Ti is Te)

In Indian / Hindustani sargam notiation: Sa, ga, Ma, Pa, ni (सा, गा़, म, प, नि़)

The pentatonic is one of the first scales learned by many guitarists, since it requires only two notes per string and the pattern it follows is very easy (1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4, 1-4):

Here are a couple views of the pattern

In the following table, each column represents a finger (1 == pointer, 3 == ring, 4 == pinky) and the X represents where to play on each of the six strings on the guitar:

1 2 3 4
X - - X
X - - X
X - X -
X - X -
X - X -
X - - X

The following is a non-starndard guitar tab, showing the same pattern:


The following is a normal guitar tab, showing how to play each of the notes in sequence:


One awesome thing about the pentatonic is that once you learn the above shape, you can play that shape all over the neck to play the scale in different keys. As long as you know the root note of any given song, you can find the root note on the bottom E string, and play the shape to improvise or solo:

  • for songs in minor, start with the same note
    • for a song in A minor, start on the 6th string, 5th fret
    • for a song in C minor, start on the 6th string, 8th fret
  • for songs in major, start with the relative minor
    • count up from the root to the 6th degree of the scale
    • count down from the root 2 degrees
    • for a song in C major, the relative minor is A, start on the 6th string, 5th fret
    • for a song in G major, the relative minor is E, start on either 6th string, open or 12th fret

This table shows the relative minors for each major scale:

Key / Major Relative Minor
C Am
C# A#m
D Bm
D# Cm
E C#m
F Dm
F# D#m
G Em
G# Fm
A F#m
A# Gm
B G#m

Many guitar solos have some flavor of the pentatonic in them – including songs from Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Black Sabbath. DeftDigits and Guitar Goblin have some examples of famous songs using the scale.

Modes #

Modes are created by playing each note of a scale in sequence, but using a different starting note. For example:

  • the first mode of the pentatonic scale is the normal scale itself: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 (सा, गा़, म, प, नि़)
  • the second mode starts on the second note in the scale: 3, 4, 5, 7, 1 (गा़, म, प, नि़, सा)

Since there are five notes in the pentatonic scale, it has five modes.

Positions #

The following table shows the shapes of each of the five modes. Learning these five shapes and practicing to switch between each of these positions will enable you to play the pentatonic all across the fretboard for a given key.

| | | | |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |
X X | X X | X X | X X | X X |

Notes (Sargam) #

The following table is the same as above, but it shows where each of the main notes are. Learning this will enable you to find your place anywhere on the fretboard. The colors chosen are based on the associated color of each note.

| | | | |
सा गा़ | गा़ | | नि़ | नि़ सा |
नि़ | नि़ सा | सा गा़ | गा़ | |
गा़ | | नि़ | नि़ सा | सा गा़ |
नि़ सा | सा गा़ | गा़ | | नि़ |
| नि़ | नि़ सा | सा गा़ | गा़ |
सा गा़ | गा़ | | नि़ | नि़ सा |
Rishi Maharaj
Sr. Software Engineering Manager

comments powered by Disqus