This article covers the following topics:

  • How and Why a minor Pentatonic minor works.
  • Where to play a Pentatonic minor.
  • Who uses a Pentatonic minor?

What is a pentatonic?

The pentatonic minor is actually a DERIVATIVE of the minor scale, but can be considered as being related to the major scale if that is all you have as a reference.

For the purpose of demonstration I will present it in two ways: as related to the major scale and the minor, as I understand that some of you may only have knowledge of the major scale at this point.  So here’s the example as it relates to the major scale first:

For example: the major scale in the key of C is:  C D E F G A B C   (7 tones)

To derive the minor we flat the 3rd  , 6th and 7th scale degrees. Therefore C minor scale is C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Five tones making up the pentatonic, C, Eb F G Bb are a subset of the minor scale

Why these five tones?

The tones are chosen using  the 1st 3rd an 5th intervals, making up the C min triad and adding in the 4th  and 7th .

Another way to choose the 5 tones if you have a knowledge of relative minor keys:

First, start with the major scale and stack perfect 5th intervals above the tonic, C.

Notes:    C         G              D    A            E

Intervals:  5 tones    5 tones   5 tones      5 tones

Arrange them into one scale and you get:  C D E G A

Arrange them to the relative minor (Am) and you get A C D E G, the Am pentatonic scale, which is 3 frets lower on the guitar ( a minor 3rd) than C pentatonic.

Why does the pentatonic scale work over I-IV-V (rock) so well?

The tones found in a pentatonic scale are COMMON to each scale.

Lets take a look at the I_IV V progression:

I – C: C D E F G A B C

IV – F:  F G A Bb C D E F

V – G: G A B C D E F# G

Thus, The 5 tones in the pentatonic: A C D E G are common to each scale.

Tones that will sound dissonant have been eliminated.

Play these common tones right over a power chord or blues progression and it will give you a “bluesy” or “heavy” sound.

Where can I find good examples of pentatonic minor playing?

A good heavy example is like Black Sabbath.  A good blues example is Stevie Ray Vaughn.  But there are many others that play the same style that can provide great examples of songs that you can play the pentatonic major scale along with.