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We all know on the guitar there are 5 positions for the Pentatonic Scale and a big deal is made about position 1 being the minor pentatonic and position 2 being the major pentatonic. But what about the remaining 3 - do they have names (other than positions 3, 4, and 5?)

Also, only position 2 (major) has the root as the starting note. Should the other 4 scales/modes start on the root (even though it's not the 1st scale note of their scale/mode?)

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Researcher Ian Ring has categorised a huge number of scales. On his page "A Study of Scales" he names the 'modes' or 'rotations' of the pentatonic scales as:

  • Major Pentatonic (e.g. CDEGA)
  • Suspended Pentatonic (e.g. DEGAC)
  • Blues Minor (e.g. EGACD)
  • Scottish Pentatonic (e.g. GACDE)
  • Minor Pentatonic (e.g. ACDEG)

If you are practising scales you can start on any note you like. The mode you play will depends on the note you choose.

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  • PiedPiper: Thanks, I just bookmarked Ian Ring's site for future reference. Dan Jan 14 at 23:49
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You mean modes? The 5 positions are in fact 5 different patterns to use when playing each of the major and minor pentatonic scales. Both of which are clones (modes) of each other. Using major as the parent, that starts on ^1 of the diatonic scale it comes from, while minor starts on ^6 of that same scale.

There is very little scope for using the other three modes, so no official names are forthcoming. One site says those 'modes' are Egyptian, Blues major (Ritusen), and Blues minor (Man Gong), but then says that certain notes are altered. Changing notes stops them being modes!!

If you feel the need to pigeon-hole, then numbering is the simplest way.

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  • Tim, Since positions 3 thru 5 don't seem to be named I guess they're not as important as 1 & 2, like you said; but when somebody plays in those modes musicologists seem to make a big deal about it. Thanks for your reply, Dan Jan 14 at 23:46
  • @user3216617 - Not so sure about the numbering you use. The major and minor pents do have an approximation to the major and minor scales, whereas the other three don't translate as well to anything but the modes of the parent major, which in themselves are sometimes nebulous.
    – Tim
    Jan 15 at 10:16
  • Good point, and is probably the reason why they're not entitled to their own names (like the Maj & Min Pent scales are). Thanks, Dan Jan 16 at 0:18
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One thing to be aware of is that EVERY position of the pentationic scale contains all 5 modes. You can play any mode in any position. The note you choose as your tonic or starting note determines what mode you are playing. There are 5 modes as listed in previous answers but the major and minor pentatonic are by far the most common and useful.

Here are two diagrams side by side of the minor and major pentatonic scales which I will use as examples but this applies to all 5 modes:

enter image description here

You can see that minor position 1 (called shape 1) is the same shape as major position 5. You can also see that minor 2 = major 1, etc.

You can use this position to play a minor pentatonic by using the orange colored root note as your tonal center for shape 1 of the minor scale.

You can also use this position to play a major pentatonic by using the orange colored root note as your tonal center for position 5 of the major scale.

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  • John, I'm familiar with the theory, but my uncertainty is when practicing with shapes 2 through 5 in your diagram, should I always start on the root? I realize there are no strict rules but it seems starting in the middle of a scale is not a good idea...or is it? Thanks for your reply, Dan Jan 14 at 23:39
  • @user3216617 Hi Dan. When practicing scale positions, I start on the root, ascend to the top note, then descend to the lowest note then go back up and end on the root. That is assuming the root is not the lowest note of the position. That way I get the feeling both physically and sonically that I am playing in the specific tonality I’m working in. If that is not clear let me know and I will try to clarify further. Jan 15 at 0:43
  • Hi John, So, for example, in your (Minor Pentatonic) SHAPE 2, you would NOT start on the 6th string/4th fret but instead, you would start on the 4th string/3rd fret to get the entire tonality. Do I have that right? Dan Jan 15 at 21:46
  • @user3216617 Thats right. 4th string. If for example I wanted to play a G minor pentatonic in position 2 , I would start and end on the D string, 5th fret with my first finger. It’s not a rule but that’s what I do and also encourage others to do. It gives a better feeling of playing in the key. Another thing I like to do is to play a G minor chord before playing the scale position to have the sound in my ear. Jan 15 at 22:49
  • @user3216617 You may or may not have noticed that the minor pentatonic shapes start at fret 3 and the majors start at fret 2, there are 2 and 1 frets missing respectively from the diagrams. See the fingerboard dots for reference. Jan 15 at 22:52

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