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Arts & Entertainment

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.

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.


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.


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

this class helped open up creative ideas, listening to Tom talk about his approach to guitar, and how he views music was really eye opening

As a guitar player it was almost everything I wanted to know about Tom's playing/set-up and I learned things I applied to my own playing.

I'm sad it's over. I feel like the guitar is secondary to the life lessons Tom imparts. Awesome.

I'm already making better, more interesting music because of Tom's advice...but I still have many hours of practice ahead of me.


Lee A.

This is not a complaint at all, because I LOVE these lessons. But have you noticed how imprecise his timing is in his practice sessions? And his timing in this example of a simple "solo"? And that's particularly weird because he's a master of rhythm, turning a guitar into an EDM drum machine. I wonder if, in the studio, he just keeps re-recording sections till they're awesome, or if the engineers fix it in the DAW.

Geoffrey S.

I'm very confused in regards to where to find anything in the workbook. In this video it's telling me to reference the scales demonstrated, but nowhere in the workbook are the scales being used in this video listed.

Santino T.

can anyone guide me as to how I can download the backing track in the video?

Glen B.

Tom is so excellent at breaking down the barriers and making this easy to understand. While this is very basic... anyone who has never touched a guitar can listen to him and understand and start to play music after just this one lesson. Amazing !

Andrew B.

Wow. Basically 6 minutes with Tom and I now understand 6 hours of trying to figure this out from online videos. Find this by testing, then play any of these. This is instruction I can do. Gracias TM.

David M.

scales r combination of notes that sounds good together, n for know that notes u need a scale code that tells u what notes to play. There r other scales, but now, about the pentatonic scale, found A, now, from A, move forward 3 frets or semitones (each freat is a semitone bro) so u are in C, then 2 St, then 2St, then 3St, and for end another 2 St, so u have, from A, 3St, 2St, 2St, 3St, 2St. play that code from any root note, n u have a minor pentatonic scale. look for other codes online, i mean betwen the massive amount of porn


I've heard various lessons that are intros to the pentatonic and plying a solos through the years. I'm extremely impressed with Tom's approach and explanation. It's far for understandable and relatable that most I've heard. Really, I don't think I've heard better.

A fellow student

Pictures of the scales as they appear in the video would be far more useful than the tabs provided.

A fellow student

Where is the workbook? I can see any option to download anything on the app?

Lindsey T.

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