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I bought a guitar chart and it has this figure for moveable minor pentatonic scale:

minor pentatonic scale

I know the number 1 box pattern of the minor pentatonic scale (Justin guitar course). I play it starting on the 5th fret to get an A minor pentatonic scale.

When trying to understand how to read the scale diagram, I came across this - The Minor Pentatonic Scale | Guitar Lesson with Diagrams. Based on the different patterns shown there, I added those boxes and numbered them.

I have 3 questions:

  1. Without referring to a different source, how will I know from the scale diagram, which frets will be part of a pattern? For example, in 1 we have frets 1,2,3,4.
  2. It says all scale diagrams are moveable, does this mean that pattern 1 for example when moved to fret 6 will give the A# minor pentatonic?
  3. What is the benefit of using one pattern over the other?

Reference diagram used to make the boxes in the first diagram:

minor pentatonic 5 patterns

4 Answers 4

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You are correct to play the first shape on 5th fret for A Minor Pentatonic

Your questions:

You will not know the frets until you know what key you are playing in. For the minor pentatonic, the first finger of shape 1 will be the root of the scale. So whatever fret you choose starting with first finger will be the key. For example, 8th fret - C pentatonic Minor.

Yes you're correct, the 6th fret first pattern would be A# (or Bb depending on how you are thinking about the key)

Using different patterns will give you options on how to play phrases you would commonly hear in guitar solos. Pattern one on the chart is the most popular and best place to start. Stairway to Heaven guitar solo demonstrates the multiple patterns as Jimmy Page moves up the neck. He also adds other notes such as the F note in the Pentatonic scale during the first phrase of solo.

See tabs for guitar solos for blues and rock to get an idea of how players use the patterns. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn are good players to start with in my opinion.

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  • "[Jimmy Page] also adds other notes..." Great point, I think this is important for OP, and everyone really. I often see questions like "Why did XYZ add a note that's not in the scale they're playing", "why did XYZ use this chord when it's not technically in the key?" -- because it sounds good/adds flair/etc. You are the music maker, and the theory is primarily there as a guide, but you're certainly not beholden to following the theory 100% all the time.
    – BruceWayne
    Aug 8 at 14:44
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Each one of the circles indicates a note belonging to the minor pentatonic scale. Those notes are also the same ones that belong to the major pentatonic scale, but that's not the issue here - but good to keep in mind for future playing.

The 1st one, which most call 'shape 1', is probably the first set that budding players learn. It is probably the most usable, and easiest, as it encompasses only 3 frets, making no need for any hand shifting for any notes. It also makes the blue notes easy to find, and bend into or out of.

The other consideration with all the shapes is hammering on, and pulling off. These operations need to happen (generally) on the same string. So it becomes apparent that with, say, shape 1, there are only certain pairs of notes which can be either hammered on or pulled off - those two on each string. That's fine, but what if you want to play the same thing with two notes that are not on the same string?

That's where the alternative shapes come in to play, so to speak. They reveal the opportunities to hammer on/pull off between the notes that the lower or higher shape denies.

There's also the slide possibility: sliding up or down will probably use the same finger on a string, and will therefore take you out of one shape into the neighbouring one. Yes, fingers can be swapped, but it's much smoother sounding using the same one. So then you're in the next shape, and that will (more or less) fall under your hand again. Maybe not so conveniently, but o.k.

You'll have seen that each shape, separated, joins up with the net - the high frets of one are the low frets of the next up. So it's more a question of building from one shape to another rathe than learning 5 different shapes. Shape 3 is the awkward one, having a 5 fret stretch, but that's not too much, really.

You are correct in saying move shape 1, for example, from 5th fret, where it's Am, to 6th fret where it's A♯m (more commonly B♭m), to 7th, where it's Bm, and so on.

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Some good advice so far, but to be (sort of) clear on your questions:

  1. The first diagram has the Root notes indicated with an R whereas the next 5 diagrams indicate the Root with the number 1 which is coloured orange. Root notes are the names of the key. If you play the first pattern at the 5th fret then all the notes indicated by an R in the first diagram, or an orange 1 in the next 5 pictures, are A notes.

The first diagram does not indicate frets 1 - 4, the 1st pattern can be played starting on any fret depending on which key you want to play in. Notice there are no dots marked in the diagram.

The first pattern (shape) is obviously the same as in the second picture, in this case the Root (the orange "1", which is a G note) is at the 3rd fret - you can tell because the double dots on the neck indicate the 12th fret. Therefore the scales as indicated are G minor pentatonic. The first pattern moved up two frets to where you play it makes it an A minor pentatonic.

The first diagram shows the same patterns as the next 5, in the same order, but they are not overlapped and instead shown separately to make them easier to view.

One simple way to see how the shapes connect is by the Root notes. In the pattern you know, the first octave (essentially the first half) of the scale would be played with the fingers 1 4 1 3 1 3 (some prefer 1 3 1 3 1 3 because they don't like using their pinky). So your 3rd finger would now be on the 4th string (D string) fret 7.

If you then place your 1st finger on the 4th string at the 7th fret where your 3rd finger was, you are in position to play the next pattern (also referred to as a shape)

  1. Yes, you are correct A# (B flat) minor pentatonic.

  2. Has been been answered a bit above. I would add that different patterns will obviously move you higher or lower along the neck (fretboard) of the guitar allowing you to access higher or lower notes. Another way of saying this is that each pattern covers a different "range" of notes.

For example, playing pattern 4 by starting with your index finger on the 5th string (A string) at fret 12 would give you A minor pentatonic between frets 12 - 15 and you could play much higher notes than at the 5th fret.

Aside from hammer-ons and pull-offs being different from one pattern to the next, sliding between the shapes is a very common way to connect them and sounds really good.

And I suggest not necessarily using a 5 fret stretch for pattern 3, you would start with your 4th finger on the Root which is on the 5th string and when you cross over from string 3 to 2 you shift your index finger up one fret, then there is no stretch involved. It's called a squeeze shift but that's probably not important yet, but it has advantages over stretching.

The best way to initially learn the patterns is not to start on the lowest note. It is to start on the lowest Root. Then play to the highest note of the pattern, back down to the lowest, and finally to return to the lowest Root.

Hope that helps and good luck!

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What you have in your first picture is an e minor pentatonic scale. E means that the root note is E. Minor means that the "third" of the scale is a minor third. Pentatonic means that there are five notes per octave.

In the following picture, the root note E is colored green. In your E minor pentatonic scale chart, it is marked with the letter R for Root. The root note of the scale is the center of harmony for that scale.

E minor pentatonic, root notes and octave distances shown

The distance from any note to the next higher note of the same name, for example from an E to the next-higher E is one octave, twelve frets. You can play pentatonic scales even on one single string:

E minor pentatonic on the high E string

I recommend practicing on a single string, because that gets you familiar with the distances between scale degrees. In any minor pentatonic scale, starting from the root which is 0, there's first a jump of +3 frets, then two more to get +5, then +7, +10, +12 which gets you to the root note again. Or if you start from the high E and go left i.e. down, you get -2, -5, ... In other words, if you go 7 frets (semitones) UP from E you get a B note, and if you go 5 frets DOWN from E, you get B as well.

Scales being movable means that the same shape can be moved across the fretboard to obtain other scales with different root notes. In the following animation, we move the E minor pentatonic scale up five frets to obtain the A minor pentatonic scale. You move the E minor scale, it's not an E scale anymore.

moving E minor pentatonic to A minor pentatonic

The animation doesn't show it, but more notes come in from the left, to mirror what's happening to the right of the 12th fret. Everything repeats all over again exactly the same at the 12th fret, no matter what scale it is. In the following picture, there's the A minor pentatonic scale. As you can see, it's what you have in your first picture, but everything is moved five frets to the right, and wrapped around at the 12th fret.

everything repeats the same at the 12th fret

Now look at the root note A on the highest string. What are the distances? They're the same as for any minor pentatonic. Root = A = 0, then +3 frets, +5, +7, +10 and repeat all over.

You select your root note according to the key of the tune you're playing. If the song is in E minor, you (normally) select the E minor pentatonic scale. If it's in A minor, you select an A-based scale. The root note is the center, the home base, the zero-point of your harmonic thinking. Key means the same thing - it's the harmonic center. "The song is in E minor" means that the harmony is centered on E as home base, and the "third" above E is a minor third.

Which position or "box" you select? Whatever you want or need for the melodic lines you play. What is comfortable, reachable, appropriate for what you want. If you want your lines to go higher, move to a position up on the neck to reach higher notes.

How did they construct the shape 1 to shape 5 boxes? Any minor pentatonic scale contains the following notes:

  • Root, 1st, i.e. "1" or "R" in the pictures
  • Minor 3rd, i.e. "♭3"
  • Perfect 4th, i.e. "4"
  • Perfect 5th, i.e. "5"
  • Minor 7th, i.e. "♭7"

And then it continues. The scale goes 1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7, 1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7, 1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7, 1, ... You take every scale note exactly once, and don't skip anything. Start from the lowest note inside each position.

Using "boxes" is not the only way to construct pentatonic scale patterns for playing. We can make a scale on only one string. This is what the E minor pentatonic scale looks like on just the E string:

E minor pentatonic with degree numbers on E string only

Or you could make a scale by using three notes per every string. Here's A minor pentatonic with three notes per string.

A minor pentatonic three notes per string, with arrows

Not very easy to play, but why not, that's a scale. To play a scale run, you go up or down, using every scale degree exactly once, not skipping any.

The full diagrams with the whole fretboard full of notes is also a scale diagram in a way, but with multiple instances of the same pitch. In the positional boxes, there is only one instance of each pitch. ... 5, ♭7, 1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7, 1, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7, 1, ...

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  • Thanks for the detailed answer. :D It will take me some time to fully process it. But I was just wondering. Given diagram 1 in my question, how do I know which section represents a scale shape? Like I already knew how the box pattern looked so I knew that the first 4 frets (red box) are ones I need to focus on. But if I did not know that then how would I have known the boundary for the red box? Aug 8 at 20:52
  • In other words, if I just see the diagram 1 (without the annotation boxes and numbers I added), how do I know what all notes to play to make a minor pentatonic scale? That diagram has many notes and obviously I do not want to play ALL of them in a scale. Aug 8 at 20:54
  • @ParthTamane I'll add an explanation to my answer when I have time, but while waiting, play the E minor pentatonic as shown, only on the high E string. Up and down. Listen to it, and learn to hear what each step sounds like, and look at and how many frets you're jumping at each step. Run it up and down a few times and always END on an E, to make you notice it as the home note, the center of E scales. Aug 8 at 21:02
  • @ParthTamane The gray chart in your picture is the E minor pentatonic scale. It is not A minor. Moving the scale means you move the dots and the whole thing, not just your hand. In A minor pentatonic, the "third" is a minor third, just like in all minor scales. The distance between any minor scale's root and its third is three frets, three semitones. For A minor scales the minor third is C, which is the 8th fret on the E string. Is there a C on the E minor pentatonic scale in your first picture? No there is not. Aug 8 at 21:06
  • I see what you mean about this being a E minor pentatonic. Are you saying that because "The distance between any minor scale's root and its third is three frets, three semitones.", if I start at a fret, the minor pentatonic pattern will include the next 3 frets. So the pattern will have next 4 frets starting from current fret? Aug 8 at 21:20

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