From Tom Morello's MasterClass

Beginner Theory: Pentatonic and Blues Scales

Aimed towards beginner players, Tom demystifies the pentatonic scale and the blues scale to help you start improvising solos.

Topics include: Find the Key Center The Pentatonic Scale • Moving the Pentatonic Scale • The Blues Scale


Aimed towards beginner players, Tom demystifies the pentatonic scale and the blues scale to help you start improvising solos.

Topics include: Find the Key Center The Pentatonic Scale • Moving the Pentatonic Scale • The Blues Scale

Tom Morello

Teaches Electric Guitar

Learn More


If you listen to popular music, you’ve heard the pentatonic scale. It’s most closely associated with blues music, but also manifests in all the genres that spanned from the blues — rock n’ roll, R&B, pop, country, bluegrass, hip hop, heavy metal, folk, reggae, and even jazz. The best players in these genres don’t exclusively rely on the pentatonic scale, and some of them (most notably jazz) only use it sparingly. But it’s impossible to imagine Western popular music without pentatonics. It’s as integral as guitars and drums What Is the Pentatonic Scale? The word pentatonic means “five tones.” Therefore, a pentatonic scale is a five-note musical scale. Technically speaking, any scale with only 5 notes can be called pentatonic. And worldwide, there are many forms of pentatonic scales — from West Africa to Eastern China. However the popular genres of Western music are based around two specific pentatonic scales: 1. Major pentatonic scale 2. Minor pentatonic scale. What Are the Notes of the Major Pentatonic Scale? The major pentatonic scale is a variation on a plain old major scale. A major scale has seven notes (which makes it “hepatonic”). We call each of these notes a scale degree. In the major scale, the scale degrees are very simple: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 To put this in real world terms, consider the notes of a D major scale: D - E - F# - G - A - B - C This means that D is the first scale degree (also called the root), E is the second scale degree, F# is the third scale degree, and so on. In a major pentatonic scale, eliminate the 4th and 7th scale degrees. This leaves: 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6 And therefore a D major pentatonic scale includes the following notes: D - E - F# - A - B What Are the Notes of the Minor Pentatonic Scale? The minor pentatonic scale is a variation on the natural minor scale. Just like the major scale, the natural minor scale has seven scale degrees. They are: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7 To put this in practical terms, consider a G natural minor scale. Its notes are: G - A - Bb - C - D - Eb - F This means G is the root, Bb is the flat third, D is the fifth, F is the flat 7th, and so on. To turn a natural minor scale into a minor pentatonic scale, eliminate the 2nd and 6th scale degrees. This leaves: 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7 And as such, the Gm pentatonic scale contains the following notes: G - Bb - C - D - F How to Play the Pentatonic Scale If you can play major and natural minor scales, then you can also play major and minor pentatonic scales. Just remember: A major pentatonic scale is a major scale minus the 4th and 7th scale degrees. A minor pentatonic scale is a natural minor scale minus the 2nd and 6th degrees. Here are some popular pentatonic scales: C major pentatonic scale: C - D - E - G - A F major pentatonic scale: F - G - A - C - D A minor pentatonic scale: A - C - D - E - G E minor pentatonic scale: E - G - A - B - D While the pentatonic scal...

Strike a Chord

Tom Morello is a two-time Grammy winner and one of Rolling Stone’s "greatest guitarists of all time." In his first online guitar class, the co-founder of Rage Against the Machine will teach you the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career and sent his music to the top of the charts. Tom will share his approach to making music that challenges the status quo and teach you how to create your own musical style.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Really opened my mind and killed a lot of doubts. Now I have to do something about it! :)

Tom is one of my favorite musicians. His Masterclass really broke down some of my barriers to songwriting. He made it so human. Just record whatever sounds good when your improvising and come back to it later. You and me and Paul McCartney are songwriters.

This class was powerful. When listening to someone who is passionate and so down to earth at the same time, a cathartic revelation comes to you. You realize that Tom Morello is not just a guitar player, this is not just a music class, it is a philosophical journey that helps one to become ... yourself.

Excellent class Tom has a real gift in holding your attention



Thanks for making this masterclass. Tom Morello is an amazing teacher. I love Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave.

Margaret M.

Tom mentions Joe Strummer here. "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten" is a great documentary, if you haven't seen it.

David G.

After banging away at E minor pentatonic for awhile, I couldn't get my head around what you do with it. TM helped a lot by show-do method. Nice one, and thanks.

Michael H.

This was my favorite lesson so far. I played with the back track and had so much fun on the pentatonic scale. Fun to have that kind of a homework assignment. This is my first ever experience at playing guitar....ever. Its been 6 weeks and the lesson on practice was daunting, but Tom is so right. Such a joy in my life to take time to learn electric guitar. I'll never get to 8 hours like Tom in his prime, but my goal is 30 mins a day! Thanks Tom!


This is the first scale I learned about 25 years ago and I still use it a lot. Tom did a great job at explaining something complex in a very simple way. Some comments, I would like to share about the pentatonic: 1) It has 5 notes (that is the reason of the name ) 2) A key center naturally attracts 7 notes, and among those 7 notes, there are 5 that tend to work better in the different chords that belong to that specific key center. Those 5 notes are the pentatonic scale and therefore that is the first scale every guitar player learns! 3) The shape of the scale presented by Tom in A, is in fact a minor pentatonic shape, that will work well in Aminor and Cmajor.

Josh P.

I’ve been playing for 25 years, and I never took the time to study and dig into scales and theory. This is probably why I have not been able to elevate my skill level and innovation. I’ve learned more in the last 24 hours than I have in the last decade, and can’t wait to see the world that scales and theory opens up for me moving forward. Oh, and my new whammy pedal practically makes me a member of RATM.

Killian L.

Off topic, but as soon as I heard that opening melody from "Settle for Nothing" I had to bust out my notebook and ended up with a page of verse I can't help but hear in Zach's voice... Probably not a finished song (I may have to tweak on POV/verb tense) but it's my proudest verse to date and that alone was worth $90 to me!

Marc B.

I know we’re not strictly focussing on music theory, but the A# in the G pentatonic is actually a Bb. It’s the same sounding pitch, but the name is wrong in context. There’s no benefit to giving it the wrong name even if people are being free and easy with the music theory side of things.

Jonathan S.

One of the most exciting things for a beginner is to be able to play a solo first time out. Of course it assumes you can hold down strings without buzzing and be able to pluck with a pick. But to be able to move into solos can be an eye-opener for someone who only knew how to play chords.

A fellow student

I'm lovin this class! Is there somewhere where you can download the audio tracks that you would solo over? I see that the workbook has the chords for those tracks and I thought he said something about being able to play over a continuous loop. I am sure I can find something on You Tube but wanted to check here. Thank you Tom!!!