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Pentatonic Major Scale Patterns

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Here is a set of pentatonic major scale patterns, organized in order as they follow one another.   The boxes enclose each successive pattern, and the patterns are shown below in individual form.

Don't assume that the first row is necessarily the first fret on the fretboard -- it could the 5th or any other fret.  In other words, the patterns may move up or down the fingerboard, as long as they are kept in order.  They can be in any key at all, depending upon where the root note falls.

The point is that the sequence of patterns will continue.  And just like the chromatic scale, these patterns will begin to repeat themselves.  Note that the top and bottom rows are identical -- that's where the repetition begins -- every 12th fret.

How Do You Decide Which Pattern to Use?

Each pattern will work, since they each contain the same notes.  The first thing you need to know is the key you're playing in.  That tells you the root note.  Find the root note on the fingerboard and see where it fits into one of these patterns.  Since they are all interconnected, you should then -- with a bit of thought and effort -- begin to see how the other patterns are used.

One little extra that can be fun - the pentatonic blues scales.   It is possible to play all of these patterns as pentatonic blues scales.  For example, if you're playing a G I - IV - V chord progression, playing pattern 5 (which looks sort of like a G chord) using the low root note on G is simply playing the G major pentatonic scale.  However to play that pattern as a blues scale, simply move the scale 3 frets higher on the fingerboard and play it against the same chord pattern.  All other patterns make the same adjustment.   Try it out.

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Pattern 1 -- The Root Scale
(1st Mode -- Ionian)

This pattern begins with the root note on the low E string.  (In fact, the root is also on the high E string, since an E string = E string, etc..)  It is based on the first pentatonic mode, which is another way of saying it begins with the first note of the pentatonic scale.

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Pattern 2
(2nd Mode -- Dorian)

This pattern moves everything up the keyboard just one interval.  It is based on the second mode -- it begins with the second note of the pentatonic scale.

As you can see, the top 2 rows of Pattern 2 are the same as the bottom 2 rows of Pattern 1.  Those are the "connectors" between these patterns.

This is the only pattern where the notes span 5 frets, causing a little extra finger stretching.

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Pattern 3
(3rd Mode -- Phrygian)

Starts with the 3rd note of the pentatonic scale.

The "connectors" between these patterns are again the same as with the others.

(4th Mode -- Lydian & 7th Mode -- Locrian)

There is no pentatonic scale based on the 4th or 7th modes, because the 4th and 7th notes by definition are not included in the pentatonic scale.

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Pattern 4
(5th Mode -- Mixolydian)

Starts with the 4th note of the pentatonic scale.  Just a reminder that that note is really the 5th note of the "regular" major scale, but because the pentatonic skips the 4th and 7th notes, we call it Pattern 4.

Same "connectors" and this pattern is perfectly symmetrical, which makes it easy to play and learn.

Once again, please note that the bottom row of this pattern is the same as the top row of Pattern 5.

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Pattern 5
(6th Mode -- Aeolian)

If you look carefully at this pattern, you'll see the familiar first position G chord shape.  In other words, if you treat the first row as representing the open strings of the guitar, it can be played from that position.  But as you move the pattern up the neck, that row must now be fingered, and the pattern is fully movable.

This pattern also returns us to the root note on the E strings, which means we have moved up one whole octave, or 12 frets, from root to root.

The Circle of Major Pentatonic Scales

Here are the pentatonic major scale patterns, organized in order as they relate to each another. 

This graphic simply illustrates the "cyclical" nature of the scales.

If you start with any pattern and move to the right, you are moving up the fingerboard, until you run out of room to play comfortably.

If you move left from any pattern, you are moving down the fingerboard, until the nut gets in the way.

An important element in learning the patterns is to remember the "connectors" between them, whichever way you are moving.

Practice, Practice, Practice!! Play these patterns over anything you can.  Put on a recording you like and play along with every song.  Think while you play about the relationships, where the roots are, how the patterns interconnect.  Before long, they'll begin to feel like second nature to you.

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