The Best Pentatonic Shape Ever!

Weekly Newsletter #21

December 30, 2021

I’m sure every one of you can easily play the pentatonic scale right? 

But which one? 

Most likely it’s the minor pentatonic scale that everyone learns as a beginner. However, some of you probably know the major pentatonic version as well, and possibly even all 5 shapes of the scale. 

Today I’m going to show you the most useful and well kept secrets about pentatonic playing…the best version of the scale you almost certainly don’t know! 

It’s important to remember that the pentatonic scale can be considered major or minor, so when I refer to either one of those it is generally a reference to the starting note on the low E string. 

For example, the C major and A minor pentatonic scales share the same notes: C - D - E - G - A. If you started this scale on the 5th fret of the low E string, you’d be starting on A which most people refer to as the minor pentatonic. Start the same set of notes on the 8th fret low E string and you’re starting on C, which would be the major pentatonic. There are of course 3 other versions, starting on the D, E and G notes of the low E string, together totaling 5 standard shapes. 

But there is a version of this scale that is easier to play than all the others. It’s faster, more intuitive, symmetrical and works for both minor and major playing. 

For this lesson we’ll be using the C major pentatonic scale (or A minor if you prefer). I chose this scale because it should be easy to relate to the pentatonic shapes you already know. 

Click Here For the TAB & Video Lesson

The very first thing you might notice is that it doesn’t start on C, but instead it starts on G (the fifth degree of the scale). You might also notice that is doesn’t travel vertically up the fretboard, but instead diagonally from the 3rd fret all the way up to the 12th fret of the high E string! 

This is part of what makes this scale so valuable. It’s an incredibly efficient way of moving up multiple octaves and traversing a larger area of the neck than simply staying in one vertical position. 

Basically, this scale is made of three identical octaves. All of them repeat every two strings using the same exact shape. 

Check out the first five notes: G - A - C - D - E 

If you’re thinking scale degrees, which is highly recommended, that would be: 5 - 6 - 1 - 2 - 3 

The simplicity of this scale is that the pattern of two notes on one string followed by three notes on the next means that you can repeat this pattern on any set of two strings. It also allows for a huge variety of articulation changes. 

One of the signature features is that rather than starting on the 1 of the scale, it is easiest to play the 5 - 6 - 1 which is a classic guitar sound…part of almost every genre of music. 

It’s so useful in fact that you could potentially make a lot of amazing phrases using only these three notes. 

Playing the scale is very simple. Your first and third finger play the first four notes (which is immediately easier than almost any other vertical pentatonic shape) and then to get the fifth note you can slide with your ring finger up two frets. This puts you in perfect position to play the next octave. 

The fact that you can slide up to the last note of the octave means that you don’t have to pluck every note and can instead incorporate a more musical style of phrasing. 

I recommend that you get accustomed to playing in this shape as opposed to your standard pentatonic boxes for it’s symmetry, simplicity and musicality. 

Start by trying to relearn any licks you like to play using this new scale shape. See how you can vary them to include new articulations like slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs. 

Then progress to learning new licks in this shape exclusively. See if you can repeat the licks consistently in all three octaves without stopping. You should notice that it sounds almost like a new phrase when you repeat the same exact lick in a new octave, another awesome feature! 

From there, simply experiment and spend a good deal of time having fun and getting to know the best pentatonic shape ever! 

-Max Rich