Major Pentatonic Scales for Guitar. How Are They Different From Minor?

The major pentatonic scales are so pretty sounding! Find out how Jimi Hendrix used them and learn to apply them to your own guitar music. This free guitar lesson online will get you started using this great musical sound.

Question: Can you play a pentatonic scale on your guitar and make it sound CLEARLY major -- as opposed to the minor "box"? If so, great! If not, you need to go through this free guitar lesson online!

The Guitar Lesson Video at the bottom of this page demonstrates how to use 2 different pentatonic scale shapes over a chord progression that uses 4 chords. You'll be playing a different scale for each chord. Some call this a "vertical" approach to soloing.

There are some free downloadable guitar scales and charts on this page as PDF files. You'll need Adobe Reader (the latest version is recommended) installed on your computer in order to open it -- if you don't already have it. You can get Adobe Reader here (a new window will open so you can download it without leaving this page).

Memorize This Formula

Memorize the following: Root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th. That is the structure of the major pentatonic scale. Intermediate and even somewhat experienced guitarists often get confused with the difference between the minor and major pentatonic scales.

This is probably because the fretboard shapes are identical. But…that's also what makes them so wonderful!

See the guitar scale diagrams below for the main "box" shape we all know and love :-) This guitar lesson and video will demonstrate a few ideas for you that you may not be familiar with.

major pentatonic box shape

Even if you know this pentatonic scale shape on your guitar and it's in your "safe zone" when you solo, I'll bet that you don't know where the scale degrees are. In other words, where are all the roots located? How about the 2nd or 3rd, etc.?

This is unbelievably important -- if you want to take your guitar playing skills to the next level. So as the guitar lesson video at the bottom of this page demonstrates, start by playing and saying or singing the scale degrees as you play. I also highly recommend writing these things out. Download and print free blank guitar fretboards here.

The most important thing to notice with the major pentatonic scales on the guitar is that the Root is on a different note than with the minor pentatonic box -- the minor version being the one most are familiar with. Learn to HEAR the root for the major box as home base. This is like the pull of gravity in music.

Below is another way to play the same major pentatonic scale on your guitar, but it's a different pathway on the fretboard. It involves a bit more motion on the string axis. Learn it by saying it and playing it. Write it out!

major pentatonic scale

How To Practice

Follow the practice guidelines below and you'll be well on your way with the guitar pentatonic scales!

  • Play the C major pentatonic scale in position 5 saying the scale degrees out loud.
  • I highly recommend memorizing this pentatonic guitar scale over the entire fretboard if you haven't already done so. There's a free downloadable pentatonic scale chart here. It's in the key of C and has all 5 positions of the major pentatonic scale beautifully illustrated on the guitar fretboard.
  • Play it on your guitar. Draw it on blank guitar fretboards. Don't forget the scale degrees.

If you've done the above and you're ready…try the following exercise. It's demonstrated in the guitar lesson video as well -- along with some classic major pentatonic licks.

  • Using basic barre chords, the chord progression goes from C to G to D to A. It's in 4/4 metre at a "moderate walking" tempo with straight rock feel. Rock feel usually means the eighths are "straight" -- as opposed to a swing or shuffle feel. Each chord gets 2 bars -- one bar to the chord -- and one bar to some major pentatonic ideas.
  • note: Depending on your guitar playing experience, this CAN be challenging. If so, reduce the exercise to C major chord only. Play the chord, try some scale ideas, play the chord, etc. Alternate in this manner until the day comes you feel that you can add another chord.

Guitar Tab Free PDF Download Here -- these are some of the ideas I demonstrate in the above guitar lesson video. Don't forget to also download the 5 forms of the scale! That link is located higher up this page :-)

As always here at free guitar lessons online, this is only the very tip of the iceberg! I know learning and mastering guitar can feel overwhelming. That's why you can use it as a discipline that can even teach you about Life -- and help you get to know yourself. Take a deep breath and tap into your courage to move forward. Be patient and trust that if you do the work results will come.

Thanks for working through this guitar lesson on major pentatonic scales. And thanks for tuning in and tuning up!

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