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Major Pentatonic Scale: Notes and positions on the Guitar

If you’ve been playing guitar for a couple of months you’ve probably heard of a musical scale called the major pentatonic. But what is this major pentatonic scale?

In this article we will not only see the major pentatonic scale, but we will also get to know its shapes, intervals and formula. And if that wasn’t enough, we’ll also learn why it exists and what relationship it has with the major scale.

major pentatonic scale guitar

Let’s get to it!

What is the major pentatonic scale?

The major pentatonic is a five note musical scale consisting of the degrees 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 6. In other words, a major scale without the fourth and seventh degrees.

To better understand this idea, let’s look at the C major pentatonic scale as an example. And for this purpose we will first analyze the C major scale:

C D E F G A B

Above we can see the C major scale and if we want to obtain the major pentatonic we only have to eliminate the 4th and 7th degrees. That is to say, the fourth and seventh notes starting from C.

C D E G A

As a result we have that the major pentatonic scale notes in the key of C are:

  • First degee: C.
  • Seconddegee: D.
  • Third degee: E.
  • Fifth degee: G.
  • Sixth degee: A.
🎵 What notes are left out in major pentatonic scale?

At this point we know what notes in a major pentatonic scale are so the answer would be the fourth and seventh degree.

Perfect, now we know how to construct this scale in the key of C. But how would we build it in any other key?

How would we form the G major pentatonic scale (for example)?

In order to answer this question we need to look at the musical intervals of this scale.

What are the intervals of the major pentatonic scale?

The major pentatonic scale interval pattern is.

W – W – W+H – W W+H

W: Whole step or tone.

H: Half step, half tone or semitone.

The scheme above is very theoretical, so let’s take another example to show you how simple it really is.

Do you remember that earlier I asked about the G major pentatonic scale? Let’s build it.

And for this we only have to start from G and draw the tonal distribution that I mentioned before.

pentatonic g major scale guitar

As a result we have that the G major pentatonic scale notes are:

G A B D E

The musical notes above are the major pentatonic scale degrees in the key of G because:

  • Between G and A there is a distance of one tone.
  • Between A and B there is a distance of one tone.
  • Between B and D there is a distance of one and a half tones.
  • Between D and E there is a distance of one tone
  • Between E and G there is a distance of one and a half tones.

Remember that a tone is a whole step and a half tone or half tone is a semitone.

But there is more, because each of these notes receives a number according to the position it occupies in the scale.

Let’s take a look!

What is the formula for a major pentatonic scale?

As I said at the beginning of this article, the formula for the major pentatonic scale is:

1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 6

If we take the above table and expand it we would have the following:

major g pentatonic scale formula

Which means that:

  • First (1): G.
  • Second (2): A.
  • Third (3): B.
  • fifth (5): D.
  • Sixth (6): E.

In summary, if you want to know what the 5 notes in the major pentatonic scale are, you must always keep in mind its formula and musical intervals because this applies to all keys.

For example, the c major pentatonic scale is:

major pentatonic scale degrees

The major pentatonic scale in all 12 keys

Before we look at the major pentatonic scale on the guitar, let me show you this musical scale in all 12 keys so you have them in a nutshell.

  • C major pentatonic: C, D, E, G, A, C
  • C# major pentatonic: C#, D#, F, G#, A#, C#
  • D♭ major pentatonic: D♭, E♭, F, A♭, B♭, D♭
  • D major pentatonic: D, E, F#, A, B, D
  • E♭ major pentatonic: Eb, F, G, B♭, C, Eb
  • E major pentatonic: E, F#, G#, B, C#, E
  • F major pentatonic: F, G, A, C, D, F
  • F# major pentatonic: F#, G#, A#, C#, D#, F#
  • G♭ major pentatonic: Gb, Ab, B♭, D♭, E♭, G♭
  • G major pentatonic: G, A, B, D, E, G
  • A♭ major pentatonic: A♭, B♭, C, E♭, F, A♭
  • A major pentatonic: A, B, C#, E, F#, A
  • B♭ major pentatonic: B♭, C, D, F, G, B♭
  • B major pentatonic: B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B

The major pentatonic scale on guitar

Well, by now you should know and master the music theory behind the major scale. So let’s move on to what’s cool, how the notes are distributed along the fretboard and how to play the major pentatonic scale on the guitar.

major pentatonic scale guitar
major pentatonic scale patter guitar

The 5 major pentatonic scale positions

To learn to play this scale on the guitar, we divide the previous scheme into the famous 5 major pentatonic scale shapes that are easy to learn and that also serve as a fingering exercise or warm-up:

5 major pentatonic scale shapes

Major pentatonic scale tab

Now you have the 5 positions of this musical scale but you may wonder how to play the major pentatonic scale up and down the guitar

Let’s look at the tab below:

|----------------------------8-11-8-------------------------|
|-----------------------8-11--------11-8--------------------|
|------------------8-10------------------10-8---------------|
|-------------8-10---------------------------10-8-----------|
|-------8-10--------------------------------------10-8------|
|--8-11------------------------------------------------11-8-|
major pentatonic scale guitar patterns

In the chart above we can see the first pattern of the C pentatonic scale. To practice it we only have to go to the 8th fret and start descending it.

Practice this exercise as a warm-up for 5 to 10 minutes before playing.