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I have just learned what a scale is and I am practicing the minor pentatonic scale on guitar. I have noticed that when you change what fret you start on, the pattern changes.

For reference, I am using this site: JGuitar

You can change what fret you would like to start on.

With root of E, I know the sequence is EGABD but I have noticed that there are 9 different patterns on this scale. If you change from fret 0 to start on fret 1, the pattern changes.

How does one go about learning this?

Is there an easier way?

Is there some vital theory/information I am missing?

  • For me, I'm practicing. Every day I run through all the patterns. – Todd Wilcox Jun 2 '16 at 20:30
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Looking at the site you linked and clicking on each fret to change the pattern, there are actually only 5 (not 9) completely different distinct patterns that repeat. Several are exactly the same notes and some show a slight variation on the same basic "pattern". Allow me to expand on some of the other answers.

The basic patterns for the minor pentatonic scales are depicted in the excellent answer by empty. They change depending on the starting position. If you learn the five patterns then you can play a minor pentatonic scale in any key from any position on the fretboard and they all overlap and repeat as you move down the fretboard.

The CAGED system referred to in the answer by Yorik is a method for more easily understanding and visualizing the five patterns for the major scales. The CAGED system is based on the common open position chord voicings for major chords - which with a capo or barre can be moved up the neck to different keys.

There are 5 basic open position chord shapes that are commonly played on guitar. These are the C chord shape, the A chord shape, the G chord shape, the E chord shape and the D chord shape. The B chord shape in first position is the A chord shape moved up two frets with a barre so it's not a sixth shape. The F chord shape is the E chord shape played as a barre chord on the first fret so it's not a different shape either.

The patterns for the major scales are based on these 5 chord shapes moved up the neck. As you move the root farther up the neck towards the bridge the patterns change in the order of C A G E and D.

To help you see this in your mind let's take a C major chord in first position played like this:

enter image description here

All the notes in this chord will be found in the C major pentatonic scale in position 1 with the nut serving as the zero fret and the pattern would look like this:

enter image description here

Note the orientation of the picture differs from the chord chart but the red indicates the fretted strings for a basic open C chord. The open strings are part of the pattern as well and would be played as a fretted note if you move this pattern up the neck to make it a C# or D or etc. pentatonic scale.

Now visualize putting a capo on the 3rd fret (or barre with your first finger) and playing an A Shaped chord like this one:

enter image description here

With the capo on the 3rd fret this would be a C chord in a different position on the neck and would constitute a different pattern that would look like this:

enter image description here

To visualize the next position for the next pattern in the C A G E D system we put a capo on the 5th fret and play a G like this:

enter image description here

But with the capo on the 5th fret it will be a C and form the outline (including the capoed notes) of the third pattern.

Move the capo up 3 more frets to the eighth fret (or use a first finger barre) and play an E chord like this.

enter image description here

This "E" chord shape played with capo on the eighth fret will again be a C chord and the notes fretted for this chord including the ones barred by the capo or your finger will form the basic outline of the next pattern for the C major pentatonic scale.

The final pattern is based on the D chord that looks like this.

enter image description here

With a capo on the tenth fret this D shaped chord will again play a C chord and form the outline of the final pattern in the CAGED system.

Regardless of which key you play a major pentatonic scale in, the patterns will change in CAGED order. No matter what position you start in, the next position will be in the prescribed order relative to the starting position and the C A G E D C A G E D order. For example if you start in the position that corresponds to the G and if you move towards the headstock the next position will be A and if you move towards the bridge the next position will be E - (C A <G> E D).

The minor pentatonic patterns are similarly based around an open chord formation of a minor chord.

In the chart posted in the answer by empty, position one is based on a basic E minor chord formation. The second position is based on the basic common D minor chord. Position three is based on a less common version of the C minor chord that is played like this:

enter image description here C Minor

Position four is based on the common Am shape (which same shape is used with a barre to play Bm and Cm). Position five is based on a less common (vs the Em shaped 3rd fret barre chord) open G minor formation (pictured below) that starts with a basic open G major chord and shifts the B (third of G major) by one fret to make it Bb thus making the G major a G minor.

enter image description here G Minor

By visualizing the 5 different major or minor chord shapes at different positions on the neck, you can easily find many of the notes in a major or minor pentatonic scale in whatever key you are playing them in. And once you learn where the non chord tone notes hit for each pattern, you will be all set.

So you only need to learn the 5 major chord shapes (C A G E and D) and the five patterns based on them and do the same with the minor chord shapes and patterns and then practice starting with the C based pattern and moving up to the A based pattern and then the G and so on all the way through D and back. Repeat the process for the minor patterns. Incorporate playing through these into your regular practice routine.

Eventually it will become second nature. But it will take intentional, deliberate, consistent and dedicated practice.

Enjoy the journey.

  • Check the para. starting with 'Regardless'. Is the order as you meant? Brilliant explanation! +1. The only bit that's not convincing for me is the D bit, since it only uses 4 strings. Yes, it fits, but it's rather short of notes, comparably speaking. – Tim Jun 3 '16 at 7:30
  • @Tim see if my edit makes that paragraph more clear. Yes the D in open position uses only 4 strings but you can extend the pattern to the other 2 strings using the overlapping notes in the E shaped pattern and C shaped pattern CAG E - D -C AGED. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 3 '16 at 8:04
  • +1, You basically put into (understandable) words what I meant by "overlapping, integrated barred chord forms". I would add (as a note like this to not overcomplicate), that they may be centered on a specific chord form, but all the scales are at least 3 chords integrated. e.g. position 5 is Am, Gm, and the barre only of Em. It is obvious once you know to look that the A chord shape itself is the "exposed barre of an open G" etc. The scale itself is a truncating frame (or "crop box") – Yorik Jun 3 '16 at 14:07
  • @Yorik Good point about the overlap. That's what I pointed out in my reply to Tim above your comment. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 3 '16 at 19:23
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So if you look carefully at the E Major Pentatonic graph, you will notice that the scales are basically overlapping barred chord forms of E (where the nut itself is a bar for open E chord): E pattern; D pattern; C pattern; A pattern; finally G pattern; repeat.

By D pattern, I mean the D chord form barred at the second fret (E major).

This is, basically, the CAGED system.

The E minor Pentatonic graph works in the same way, except they are Em; Dm pattern etc.

Learning them is a lot of rote memorization and practice, but once you see the construction blocks, it is easier to find your way into a scale at any position on the board.

  • I see. Now, is there a reason why the other 4 positions are left out from practice routines? I see a lot of emphasis on the CAGED system when practicing. – Al Jebr Jun 2 '16 at 23:22
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    @AlJebr the CAGED ones relate to the common chord shapes C, A, G, E, D. I guess the 'other 4' are the shapes 'between' those.. – topo Reinstate Monica Jun 2 '16 at 23:50
  • Never quite understood the CAGED system for minors - Em, Am, Dm, yes, but what about Cm and Gm? – Tim Jun 3 '16 at 10:54
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I learned the major and minor pentatonic patterns (which are identical except for which note is the root of the scale) by first learning these five patterns: enter image description here

Then I learned to connect the patterns, first by playing each pattern in sequence up and down the neck and then up and down each string.

Then I learned to switch between the patterns starting and ending on any string. For example, start with Position 1 on the low E and play the scale on the pattern to the G string where I would slide up to Position 2 and continue to play up to the high E string and then descend to the G string again by sliding up to Position 3 and so forth, taking random walks among all the patterns so that I didn't get frozen into a single pattern.

Finally I played along with blues and blues-rock moving up and down the neck. Then I played solos that moved among all the patterns.

My goal was to learn to play fluidly whatever I heard in my head. I may have sacrificed some speed, but I like my playing and others do, too.

  • Those patterns are more like modes of the pentatonic. They use as many (two) notes on each string as is possible to play without moving out of position. I find this confuses students, as if they learn each as a separate entity, the only one which sounds complete as 'scales' is the position 1, either starting on the lower note and going up to its octave on the top string (pent. minor), or starting that same pattern on the second note, and going up to the highest note shown (pent. major). That said, if you make it work, great. – Tim Jun 3 '16 at 7:23
  • That's why I start linking them together ASAP. – pro Jun 3 '16 at 15:54

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