Guitar Pentatonic Scales... the smart (easy) way

Harmonic and Melodic Fingerings (Part 2 of 3)

This series on guitar pentatonic scales is divided into 3 sections, of which this is the second. If you don't understand something, go back and get the basics right. The first article covers the basics of pentatonic scales. This article builds on the first, and explains how to actually apply this knowledge in practice, how to play pentatonic scales, on the guitar fretboard. The third article makes learning pentatonic scales on the fretboard super easy... Enjoy!


Guitar Pentatonic Scales: 2 ways

If you don't stretch your fingers beyond one finger per fret, you have two basic ways of playing any pentatonic scale on the fretboard.

All pentatonic scales contain triads, remember?
The way this plays out on the fretboard is that your basic options for playing any pent are 2:

  • You can either play all three notes in the triad at the same time
  • You can't

  • major guitar pentatonic scale

    Example of a Harmonic Fingering Pattern,
    Major Pentatonic Scale

    When we CAN play all 3 notes simultaneously...

    we call this a Harmonic Fingering:

    You will notice that all three notes in the three major triad are on separate strings, which makes it possible to play them all at once.


    major guitar pentatonic scale 2

    Example of a Melodic Fingering Pattern,
    Major Pentatonic Scale

    When we CAN ONLY play these 3 notes in sequence...

    as an arpeggio, we call it a Melodic Fingering:

    You will notice that the 3rd and the 5th of the C Major triad are on a single string. This makes it impossible to play all three notes at once...

    This principle holds true for all guitar pentatonic scales, which means we have 2 scales (major and minor) and 2 ways of playing each (harmonic and melodic fingerings) for a total of 4 fingering patterns.
    Major Pentatonic Scales

    These are the two basic ways of playing Major Pentatonic Scales on guitar:

    major guitar pentatonic scales
    Minor Pentatonic Scales

    These are the two ways of playing Minor Pentatonic Scales on guitar:

    minor guitar pentatonic scales

    Click here to carry on to Part 3: Guitar Pentatonic Scales, the smart way: Correlations


    In this series on pentatonic scales and the fretboard, we merely scratch the surface. There are many more interesting relationships to understand:
    fretboard essentials

    Other articles on pentatonic scales you may be interested in:

  • Guitar Tuning and the Fretboard: Basic to understand the relationship between pentatonic scales and the guitar

  • Guitar Scales: Section Overview

    1. Scales and Modes from A to Z: section index

    2. Guitar Pentatonic Scales 1, 2, 3

    3. Guitar Modes... the smart (easy) way


    Go back to the main Guitar Scales section
    Go back to Guitar Theory in Depth



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