I mean if you can move them, why do you need more than one? All are movable up and down the fretboard? Right? So why does each need 5 patterns and how do you know which one to use? This has really been bothering me as I try to lean each pattern for Major, Minor, Blues, country & etc. That's a lot to memorize. Thanks for your answer. Nick

  • What are the five you're seeing? The blues scale (in general) is identical to the pentatonic minor, with the addition of the flat 5. I see "country" being the pentatonic major. That makes two plus one variation. Apr 13, 2016 at 16:45
  • Another way to think of it is that there aren't really 5 shapes - more like two. If you start from the roots (the black dots) in Dom's diagram, maybe you can see that pattern 2 (starting on the D string) is the same as pattern 1 starting on the E string... and the same as 4, starting on the A string. The only slight difference in the actual shape is because of the tuning 'kink' between the G and B strings. Likewise, shape 3 (starting on A) is the same as shape 5 (starting on E). Does that make any sense at all? Apr 13, 2016 at 20:36
  • Every time I see a scale PATTERN it's always in "5" PATTERNS. Each pattern going up/down the fretboard. I'm TOLD that I have to learn EACH pattern if I want to learn that scale. I'm looking at a "learning book" right now that list "5" patterns for "each" scale starting with Major pentatonic, minor penatonic, blues pentonic ( in both Major and Minor) I could go on but I think you see my problem. Thanks Apr 16, 2016 at 18:10
  • Ok, I'm talking about "SHAPES" here. Each scale has "5" SHAPES. WHY? Apr 16, 2016 at 18:16

7 Answers 7


It's because you can start/continue the the pattern on any of the notes of the pentatonic scale. The collection of notes you have will always be the same, but the exact pattern of the scale will be different.

Let's look at the E minor pentatonic scale to start with. In the E minor penatonic scale you have the following notes with the following intervals:

E  G  A  B  D  E
 m3  M2 M2 m3 M2

The resulting

If played the scaling on the G instead of the we would have the following notes:

G  A  B  D  E  G
 M2 M2 m3 M2 m3

This is also known as the G major penatonic scale, but is still at heart the E minor penatonic scale. We can keep doing this to get the following other scale:

A  B  D  E  G  A
 M2 m3 M2 m3 M2
B  D  E  G  A  B
 m3 M2 m3 M2 M2
D  E  G  A  B  D
 M2 m3 M2 M2 m3

Now if you look at all the different patterns for the E minor pentatonic scale you'll see why there how this relates to what we did above:

enter image description here

Each shape collaborates to a pattern we talked about above that is based on the standard E minor penatonic scale just the note you start on is different. This question talks more indepth about the theory behind each of the different modes created by this.

  • As per my comment on Tim's answer, the concept of seeing '5 shapes' on guitar goes beyond the pentatonic scale - CAGED is one example, and if you google for major scale shapes the top links all talk about five shapes too. So the 5 shapes and penta tonic thing here is a slight coincidence, although it does lead to a neat picture! Apr 14, 2016 at 10:15
  • @topomorto yeah it's just the CAGED method with the rest of the pentatonic scale.
    – Dom
    Apr 14, 2016 at 12:59
  • I have always found these diagramatic explanations underwhelming. Being self-taught, and having the same thought as the OP, I found these more complex than my original conception that led to the question. It is because they are always looking at it from the scale frame of reference. What really helped me understand these is that "shape one" and "shape two" (leaving out the three "low" notes shared by shape three) is "Open Em" and Em as a "barred Dm up two". The scale is the blend of both barres (the nut is a free barre) and the chord, more or less. Shape 3-4 is a blend of Cm & Am shapes. etc
    – Yorik
    Apr 15, 2016 at 14:47
  • @Yorik which is exactly what the CAGED method is used for.
    – Dom
    Apr 15, 2016 at 15:07

There are more, except that when you reach the octave copy higher up the neck, it becomes the same as those lower. The clue's in 'pentatonic'. With five notes to play with, so to speak, by the time we get to the sixth, we're back at the beginning again. There are really only two SCALES here. The minor pent., starting for the sake of argument on the open E,thus, em pent., and the major pent., using the exact same notes, but starting on the 3rd fret, E string - Gmaj. pent.

Using only one position, often called 1st position, the facility to encompass two whole octaves (and a m3) without re-positioning one's hand, has to be the main, most used (abused?). The next will start in the same place, but on the second note, so will be the maj. pent. From there, you could play the third note, not on the 5th string, but on the 6th string, and make the pattern that starts there. And so on.

When soloing, it's useful to be able to move about the neck fluently. Let's take the 1st position, but on 5th fret - A min. pent. You can slide to fret 8 for the next note, but the one after you can't slide to - unless you know the next position of the same pent. scale. The same applies when hammering on/pulling off. Same string is easy, but to ge to the next note, when all you know is the one position, will cause problems!


The first shape of the (minor) pentatonic scale always starts on the root note of the scale on the low E string. So if you are improvising in E minor pentatonic, then the first shape would start on the open E string (As you probably know). The intervals of the pentatonic scale are different between every note: m3, M2, M2, m3, M2.

The intervals in each pattern are fixed, so if you would move that same pattern over the fretboard, the intervals of the pattern wouldn't match those of the scale, so as Dom said, there are 5 shapes on the guitar for the pentatonic scale. If you'd move pattern 1 over the fretboard, you would change the key of what you're playing: moving the pattern from E to G would change from E minor pentatonic to G minor pentatonic, which is not what you probably want.

Because every scale has different intervals, there are different shapes for every scale, yet they're all related, which you either have to memorize, or learn those intervals and find every scale on your guitar this way! (Which is better for playing harmonies and that kind of stuff)


There are 6 open string notes on the guitar - but 2 of them are the same note: E.

So, the essential five shapes move the root of the scale across the 5 unique strings: E - A - D - G - B. You can start any scale of any type on any of the 5 strings. Take G scales:

E String fret 3 for the G root A String fret 10 for the G root D String fret 5 for the G root G String open (or fret 12) for a G root - 12 makes more sense for a moveable shape B String fret 8 for the G root

You'll see great players slide along one of the strings to move between shapes so their playing has more tonal range. Personally, I think it's best to pick a key and practice playing against a backing track and practice playing pentatonics moving between 2 or more shapes. Once that becomes natural to your playing you can add more shapes or select another scale with a root 2-3 frets away from the one you've mastered. You'll end up with a vocabulary of "licks" that you can keep building on. The key here is not rote repetition of patterns or shapes but learning to create solos.

This approach is similar to learning sentences in a foreign language so you can talk to strangers rather than spending all day looking up words hoping to master the complete language before ever asking where the library is from a stranger. They won't stand there while you look up every word and neither will a band while you decide what scale and shape if needed for you to jam with them.


It is usual to be told that learning guitar initially involves learning lots of chord and scale shapes. You can buy books called "1500 chords you must learn", and so on. This can be a distraction, and for me, it makes the guitar seem more complicated than it really is.

I prefer to just remember two basic, fundamental shapes - I'll call them "north-east", and "north-west" - that become five shapes depending on which string (out of E, A, D) you put the lowest 'root' of the shape on.

North East

I know your question is about pentatonics, but the 'five shapes' idea translates to all basic scale and chord types. So... here's the version of the major scale starting on the bottom string and going in what I think of as the 'North-East' direction (up and to the right, as you look at the fretboard from a playing position):


The root notes are marked in red:

It should be fairly obvious how this scale shape relates to the open E major chord shape. Note that this also basically corresponds to pentatonic Shape 1 in Dom's diagram.

What's easy to miss is that this same "North East" shape also gives you the A and D open chord shapes - they are the same basic 'north-east' chord shape, just starting on different strings. Now it's true that they're not quite the same physical shape, but that's just because of the funny little tuning 'kink' between the G and B strings (See Why is the guitar tuned like it is?). Once you iron that out, E, A and D are the same shape. These correspond to Shape 1, shape 4, and shape 2 in Dom's diagram.

OK, now North West.

Here's what I think of as the 'North-West' major scale shape, going up and to the left :


if what I've said so far makes any sense, you should see that this major scale shape corresponds to both the simple (open) C and G chord shapes. It also corresponds to Shape 5 in Dom's diagram, which corresponds to a G-shape chord - and shape 3, which corresponds to a C-shape chord.

If any of this is confusing (and I appreciate it may be as I'm explaining how I see it), just pay most attention to where the roots and the fifths are, as they're found in pretty much all scales - major, minor, blues, pentatonic, and mocha double latte - and then fit the other notes round them.


Dom's Shape 1 ↔ 'E string root northeast' ↔ E shape chord
Dom's Shape 2 ↔ 'D string root northeast' ↔ D shape chord
Dom's Shape 3 ↔ 'A string root northwest' ↔ C shape chord
Dom's Shape 4 ↔ 'A string root northeast' ↔ A shape chord
Dom's Shape 5 ↔ 'E string root northwest' ↔ G shape chord

And note that the chord letters there are basically 'CAGED', just starting on E.

One question you might have - why isn't there a 'D string northwest' shape. The reason is that it actually fits into the 'E string root northeast'/ E shape chord, so they're basically the same.

  • Sir, I have spent several days trying to understand WHAT you are trying to explain with your north-south; east west diagrams and I just don't see a connection. The patterns are very closely related and seeing a specific pattern out of a compass is just above me. I appreciate your offering to help me but it's plain I'm not on the same page as you. May 2, 2016 at 17:37
  • @NickNichols no problem at all - there are so many ways of thinking about this and some ways will work for some people, others will work for other people. May 2, 2016 at 17:41

I have also been struggling with the original question in this post, but think I might have figured it out. Say you want to play minor pentatonic in key A. You start with position 1 on the 5th fret 6th string. Say then you want to stay in key A but move up the fretboard, away from the nut, you have to use the other positions. So for eg the next position up starts on the 8th fret 6th string and you have to use position 2. This keeps you in key A. And so-on. If on the other hand you use position 1 on the 8th fret 6th string you will have changed the key to C. Because the key for the minor pentatonic in position 1 is determined by its lowest note. I think this is how it works... .

So for me seems the value is say I am trying to find notes that are compatible with a tune, doing this by ear. If I recognize that I am playing a form 3 pattern, then if I want to move down the fretboard towards the nut I find the connection note for form 2, or form 1, and play that form. And same applies if I want to play higher up the neck, using form 4 and / or 5. This allows one to play the whole fretboard without changing key. Of if you do need to change key, find the note on the 6th string and play form 1.


OMG the SIMPLE awnswer is this. So learning one scale will help you play in 1 spot up and down the fretboard. BUT if you wanna play up down and left and right (EVERYWHERE you want basically) Then you must learn 5 differnt shapes. Its that simple guys.

  • What does playing "left and right" mean? OP is clearly under the impression that one might be sufficient, so what's the advantage of playing "everywhere you want"? What concrete things is he missing out on?
    – user28
    Aug 17, 2017 at 1:17
  • Matthew Read, right and left refer to the neck of the guitar, moving towards the tuning pegs or the bridge. If you want to play in a key near the tuning pegs side, you need a different pattern than playing in the same key near the middle point of the guitar. Jun 15, 2018 at 21:08

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