Music & Entertainment

Beginner Theory: Pentatonic and Blues Scales

Tom Morello

Lesson time 13:59 min

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

Tom Morello
Teaches Electric Guitar
In 26 lessons, Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello will teach you the guitar techniques, rhythms, and riffs that define his signature style.
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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.

Tom Morello is an individual exhibiting great resolve and conviction, yet his open and accepting attitude towards his Masterclass students and their many future potential styles and was an act borne out of brotherly love.

Excellent. I took this course because I wanted to be a rocker when I was young. Too bad there was not a course like that then. After hearing Tom I felt eager to try the music again. It is truly inspiring. I think I'm going to take it again

A truly masterful masterclass. Tom Morello is equal parts inspirational, educational, and sensational. A very well-spoken teacher gifted at getting to the heart of the matter, no matter the topic.

This is one of the best courses Masterclass offers. I have self-taught myself guitar and I am always looking to learn more about the instrument. What Tom Morello presents in this course is a fantastic start for anyone wanting to start playing or advance their skillset on the guitar, and an invaluable look into his process which any performing artist can learn from, regardless of their discipline.


Lindsey T.

Can anyone tell me the chords that are played in the backing track? Thanks!

Ed G.

Holy cow! It's amazing how long you can solo over that Am backing track just using the minor pentatonic with the occasional blue note thrown in. I've just spent over two hours playing to that track. I opened the file with Quicktime player set to repeat. I did wander out of the box several times occasionally jumping up an octave on the fretboard, and that only spiced things up more. Then I figured out the regular minor scale across the six strings at the fifth fret and tinkered around with that as well, wandering back and forth between minor scale and minor pentatonic. I threw in a couple of hamer-ons here and there for fun. I felt like a slow-motion (very slow motion) Santana! Thanks for the awesome lesson, Tom!

len P.

Anyone else have trouble downloading the backing track? I can only save it as a webarchive.


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!