How to Play a Major Pentatonic Scale

Major pentatonic is an accessible scale that will expand your creative musical horizons. Easy to learn and apply effectively, it adds depth to basslines and melodies alike.

Before learning the scale shapes, it is advisable to examine major and minor scale diagrams with their fingerings (recall that A minor is relative to C). Scale patterns are displayed from ascending position.


Pentatonic scales contain five notes per octave as opposed to seven found in major and minor scales, and thus they make for a very useful scale for improvisation. Guitarists may become confused between major and minor pentatonic scales as their shapes look quite similar but the intervals between notes differ considerably; therefore it is essential that they understand they do not belong to the same family of scales.

As an example, the C major pentatonic scale features a unique resolution pattern, such as G to C in C major pentatonic scale that doesn’t exist in minor pentonic scale. Therefore it is very beneficial to learn both intervals from both scales in order to improvise over chord progressions with melodies that create tension that must be resolved at certain points in chord sequences.

The major pentatonic scale contains all five tones from the standard Major Scale with the exception of its fourth and seventh tones omitted for its distinct five-note structure. This makes it particularly useful when improvising in any key; indeed, many Eastern cultures use the pentatonic as their main musical scale, including Chinese music, Mongolian chants, Southeast Asian musical traditions like shomyo Buddhist chants, and gaaku imperial court music as examples.

Relying exclusively on major pentatonic scale can be an excellent way to improvise over any song in the major key, as its intervals fit seamlessly across every chord progression. But overuse of this scale could quickly make your music sound repetitive as its intervals become very distinct over time and may become monotonous when played too frequently.

To avoid this mistake, the key to successful pentatonic composition lies in understanding its structure, intervals and notes in order to craft your own unique melodies. You should also become acquainted with chords generated from both major and minor pentatonic scales.

Root Notes

Consider these points when approaching major pentatonic scales: First off, they use the same root notes as minor pentatonic, while just shifting their shapes around on the fretboard – with slight variance in gap width between their shapes.

Beginners may find it challenging to grasp, but once they do they can quickly get their hands moving and create more interesting melodies and licks using the major pentatonic scale.

The major pentatonic scale has an extremely effective relationship to chords used in any key. Each note that makes up this scale can be found either as a minor or major chord within any given key; therefore, its use as a complementing chord progression for songs in these keys (C or G for instance) makes this scale highly recommended.

This gives it tremendous versatility for use across different genres of music; many renowned guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore use it extensively.

To understand how the major pentatonic works, let’s take a look at a few examples. Let’s start with an A, D7 chord progression played on strings D, A and G in C major key; here, all notes of this chord can be found within its major pentatonic scale but not its seventh note (which can only be found within D7).

Move the scale shape and root notes over to A string and observe that they now contain only seven notes instead of five (root note of chord = fifth note), giving us some flexibility in following or embellishing chord progressions without restricting which notes we play.

Scale Positions

Pentatonic scales feature fewer notes than other scale types, making them easier to remember. Furthermore, their major third and fifth intervals make them sound more major than minor so they work particularly well over major chord progressions.

As a way of helping you remember all the scale positions, the cycle of fifths may be an effective way to visualize them. This system takes all possible root notes for a given key and arranges them so each scale position shares intervals with those directly above or below it – providing a visual of your fretboard that allows you to visualize how different scale shapes interact as they ascend up the neck.

The first two scale shapes are derived from the major pentatonic, sharing its root notes. These two scale shapes can be applied in any major key and work effectively regardless of position – position one begins on C and moves up the fretboard; position 2 begins on D and descends it. All other scale shapes use minor pentatonic scales and move in opposite directions down the fretboard from each other.

Once you have learned the basic scale shapes, it is recommended to practice moving them up and down the neck. This will enable you to develop fingering techniques as well as break out of a repetitive mindset that may arise while playing guitar. Furthermore, practicing these scales at a fixed tempo will improve timing and coordination and further develop finger skills.

The major pentatonic scale is an effective choice in many genres of music. It works particularly well on melodies and solos, as well as chord progressions. When playing blues it’s common to mix together major and minor pentatonic to produce an intriguing and varied tone – Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama uses major pentatonic extensively in their lead player’s solo as seen here on YouTube.


Once you know how to play the major pentatonic scale in a particular key, it can open up all sorts of melodic possibilities for you. You’ll soon discover ways to use this versatile melodic tool! Below are examples of licks which use various combinations of slides and slurs, paired with string bends, to add expressive vocal-like qualities to their solos. Some also feature triplets to give their licks extra rhythmic flair. Bars 10 and 24 feature particularly striking licks that combine Major pentatonic scale with Minor pentatonic scale. Alternating between these pentatonic forms gives your melodies more options when playing over chord progressions, giving them some unique sounds to select from.

This first lick displays a riff that travels through position five of the major pentatonic scale. It begins with an ascending slide from note 5 to 1 within this scale – providing an opportunity to develop your chromatic skills within a familiar structure of notes. This first pattern provides great practice opportunities as you can further develop chromatic skills while keeping to an identifiable scale shape.

Next we begin our progression through position two of the major pentatonic scale. This exercise helps develop your ability to transition seamlessly between scales and keys while improvising melodies over any chord progression. It is an invaluable practice opportunity!

The third lick in this set can be particularly challenging as it requires you to traverse both fretboard positions with major pentatonic scale in both positions. It is an effective exercise as it will develop your speed and agility when playing lead guitar, helping your speed increase drastically over time. Though at first it may seem hard, with its concentration requirements and fast finger movement required for success – over time you will find it becomes easier.