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

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When it comes to playing guitar, what you put into it is what you get out of it. You practice technique to get your fingers to go where you want them to go. You practice theory to understand where they can go and why. If you want to get a level of technique and ability and skill, you really have to put in the work. There's no two ways about it. You can't escape from doing that. Now, that's not to say that a guitar player like Joe Strummer or Johnny Ramone, who are two of my favorite guitar players, who had no technique and no theory but had a great rock-and-roll spirit and vibe are not spectacular musicians. And if you want to be one of them, then please do. And I look forward to listening to your record. But what we're talking about here is pushing through to a different level of an understanding of the instrument to unlock a kind of creativity and ability that will allow you to have no boundaries and no horizons to what it is that you can play. So first of all, is music theory necessary? Well, I'd say formal music theory absolutely is not. I was a pretty fine guitar player without having any idea what any note, chord, mode, triad was called on the guitar. I played probably 10,000 hours before ever learning the name of a scale that I was playing. During that time, I did stumble on by just sort of following my ear the stuff that made sense to me later on I found had names that were applicable in music theory. I'm quite confident that Angus Young has never cracked a music theory book. And he's probably one of the greatest of all time. So is it necessary? No. But is it an option that you can use to make music that you might hear in your head or make music that you haven't imagined yet? Then absolutely. There are channels to do that, and that's what we'll talk about now. Use them as you see fit. I found that when I began putting names and filling in the blanks of what I had stumbled upon as music theory, it was tremendously helpful in my songwriting, in my soloing, in my love and appreciation of playing guitar. [MUSIC PLAYING] I was a person that disdained and feared music theory. And so if you're fearful of music theory, then this is the correct time to listen, because I'm going to teach it to it in a way that's going to be a lot of fun. And it's going to unlock the fretboard that's going to allow you to play solos and write songs and riff from one end to the other with a minimal amount of suffering. What we're going to talk about now is the practical application of scales. And the first part is going to be for beginners, and what I also taught to my guitar students back in the day. On the very, very first day, I would have them improvising guitar solos. So I'm going to teach you beginners how to improvise a guitar solo right now, OK? So the first thing we're going to do that you always have to do in order to play a solo that sounds musical is identify the key center. So we're going to play one of the bits of music that ...

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.

Outstanding course. Tom teaches you how to become an artist through the use of guitar. Ideas and inspiration rule the day here! Thanks Tom!

Very practical masterclass, Tom is very clear, direct and honest. Theoretical and practical information very useful.

I learned more about the process of becoming a better guitar player. I was also reminded of how important it is to be creative and authentic with my writing and performance.

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.


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!!!

A fellow student

I just have a question in regards to the workbook, where it displays the diagrams of the 5 patterns are they the 5 different pentatonic patterns only? Im just not sure as it says "Study and learn the different positions of the pentatonic and blues scales as shown in the below diagrams." And is there only 1 pattern for the Blues Scale in which Tom discusses during the lesson? I'd immensely appreciate any advice.