The 5 Minor Pentatonic Scale Positions (Charts + FREE Jam Tracks)
Learn all five minor pentatonic scale shapes to help you start improvising and playing lead guitar
In this beginner & intermediate guitar lesson you will learn the 5 minor pentatonic scale positions on guitar.
To help you turn the scales into music, you'll find scale charts plus FREE A minor jam tracks for you to practice the patterns over.
We're going to use the key of A as an example of this popular type of minor scale.
Movable Scale Shapes
The beauty of the five pentatonic scale shapes you're about to learn is that they are movable. This means you use the same shapes and fingerings and move them around the fretboard to play the minor pentatonic scale in any key you wish.
To this end, let's kick things off by answering a common beginner guitar player question...
What is The Minor Pentatonic Scale?
The minor pentatonic scale is a 5 note scale that is the most popular scale to learn on guitar. This common minor scale sounds bluesy and is used in many styles of music to play lead guitar and improvise.
The pentatonic scale is also the perfect go to scale to add to your guitar practice routine whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced guitarist.
Finger speed, finger control plus your sense of timing and rhythm improve drastically when you practice scales.
The minor pentatonic scale is derived from the natural minor scale whose scale interval formula and notes in the key of A are as follows:
Natural Minor Scale Interval formula:
1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 -b7
A - B - C - D - E - F -G
Need to know: Interval scale formulas are a set template that apply to all of the 12 music keys. The only thing that changes is the notes which are determined by the scales root note (first note).
Here is the formula for a minor pentatonic scale which is identical to the natural minor scale, apart from the fact it leaves out the 2nd and ♭6th notes:
Minor Pentatonic Scale Interval formula:
1 - b3 - 4 - 5 -b7
A - C - D - E - G
Pentatonic Scale Practice Tips
- Don't dive head first trying to learn all 5 scale positions at once. Beginner players should tackle a scale position one at a time. Try to cram them all into a few practice sessions, and you ruin your chances of memorizing them.
- Remember good technique should always be your key practice goal. See this article for some effective practice tips to help you improve fast and avoid wasting practice time.
- Always use a metronome on a slow steady speed to start with. Gradually increase the speed as the scale shapes feel easier to play.
- Practice the 5 minor pentatonic positions to a backing track to spice it up and turn the scales into more than just an exercise: Minor pentatonic jam track.
Need to know: When playing the following scale shapes, the numbers in the circles tell you which finger to play the note with: 1 = first (index) , 2 = second (middle), 3 = third (ring), 4 = fourth (pinky).
Minor Pentatonic Box Shape #1
All of the 5 pentatonic scale positions are associated with a particular open chord shape (more lessons coming up about the CAGED chord shapes coming soon.)
This first minor pentatonic scale shape is based around the E major chord shape. It starts on the A root note played on the 5th fret of the low E string with your 1st finger.
Follow the practice tips below the scale chart to help you practice your best.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Pattern 1
More Scale Practice Tips:
1 - Play the scale using alternate picking (downstrokes to upstrokes)
2 - Get comfortable playing the scale pattern forwards first, then play it backwards.
3 - Once you've memorised the shape use a metronome to develop solid timing. No speeding up and slowing down!
4 - Practice playing the scale over an A minor backing track.
Minor Pentatonic Box Shape #2
In this second minor pentatonic scale position you move up a tone and a half from position one.
Starting on the C note, this position feels a little different because you start with your 2nd finger then your pinky:
Am Pentatonic Scale Pattern 2
Focus on your ear training. Does minor pentatonic scale shape two sound any different to scale shape one?
To be able to properly answer this question, scroll down and play both scales over the backing track provided at the bottom of the page.
This minor pentatonic shape is based around the D major chord shape.
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Minor Pentatonic Box Shape #3
In this third pentatonic scale position we start on the D note found on fret 10 of the 6th string.
Be sure to play the scale slowly remembering to focus on executing good playing technique, such as, alternate picking and playing with a metronome to improve your timing.
This scale shape is based around the C major chord shape.
Am Pentatonic Scale Pattern 3
Minor Pentatonic Box Shape #4
For box position number four, you start with you first finger on fret 12, followed by your pinky finger on fret 15.
This scale shape is based around the A major chord shape because the A root note is found on the 5th and 3rd strings in keeping with an open A major chord.
Am Pentatonic Scale Pattern 4
Struggle with music theory? To help you understand more about guitar scales + essential need-to-know music theory in general, check out my book Easy Peasy Guitar Music Theory: For Beginners.
Minor Pentatonic Box Shape #5
The fifth and final minor pentatonic scale position in the key of A takes us up to the dusty end of the guitar fretboard.
Start with your 2nd finger on the G note and practice playing forwards only to start with.
The shape is based around the G major chord shape thanks to the placement of the root notes on the low E, G and top E strings.
Am Pentatonic Scale Pattern 5
Practice Tip: If you're playing scale position #5 on an acoustic, you will find you're running out of space. Drop the shape to its lower octave position starting on the G note on fret 3 of the low E string.
How To Turn Scales Into Music
Great news is, by reading this article you've started the first step to turning guitar scales into a solo: Learn popular scale shapes. Next, practice your socks off. You can only truly say you've learned a scale shape when:
- you have memorised the scale shapes off by heart
- you can play the scales cleanly at both slow and faster speeds
- you can play the notes consistently ascending and descending
- you can mix it up and play the notes in a random order
- you can transpose the scale into different key
Next port of call is to use other bits of basic music theory to help you make sweet music from those scales. If you need to brush up on your knowledge of the notes on the fretboard check out this article as a good starting point.
Your next step to turning scales into music is to consider what chords fit under the scale notes and get improvising. Use guitar jam tracks, use a guitar looper pedal and play the notes in a random order, string skip, repeat phrases to create riffs and licks.
Finally (and most importantly) give different rhythms a whirl. Music is the silence between the notes after all.
Further Reading: Check out our article about the chords found in major keys to give yourself a head start.
Going forwards, expand your knowledge of different scale shapes outside of the core 5 minor pentatonic scale patterns. When the time is right, learn about modes such as Dorian, Lydian and Mixolydian. However, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.
A Minor Pentatonic Practice Backing Tracks
Because I know, playing with a metronome isn't always the most exciting of things in the world here are three practice jam tracks for you. All are in the key of A minor.
Bookmark this page and come back to practice with the backing track everyday for 5-10 minutes to see how you're progressing.
A Minor Pentatonic: Jam Track 1
This audio backing track is a 100bpm funky A minor vamp for you to practice the A minor pentatonic scale shapes over.
D Minor Pentatonic: Jam Track 2
This second acoustic guitar and drum D minor backing track at 80bpm.
Practice different rhythm values such as quarter (crotchet) notes and eighth (quaver) notes. When the scales start to feel easier to play try improvising some creative phrases instead of playing the scale simply ascending and backwards.
A Minor Pentatonic: Jam Track 3
This A minor backing track is played at 75bpm and features a crunchy tremolo electric guitar rhythm part over drum groove. Chords include Am - F Major - G Major and a surprise non-diatonic E major chord.
Can you name the other chords?
This track is 4 minutes long and playing your minor pentatonic scales is the perfect way to start off your guitar practice sessions.
Over To You: Which minor pentatonic scale pattern do you find the trickiest to play? Share your thoughts with us all in the comments below!