Arts & Entertainment, Music

Beginner Theory: Pentatonic and Blues Scales

Tom Morello

Lesson time 13:58 min

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

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

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


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...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Tom Morello

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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