Lesson: Playing the A Minor Pentatonic Scale on Guitar
The A minor pentatonic scale is a versatile scale that’s a useful asset for beginners looking to expand their arsenal. In its most basic position, it’s played right in the middle of the fretboard.
With C major (the relative major of A minor) being one of the most commonly used in popular music, the A minor pentatonic scale provides a nice, basic template for lead guitarists to create riffs and improvise solos. Like the C major scale, the A minor pentatonic scale contains no sharps or flats.
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A Minor Pentatonic Scale Notes
The scale is made up of just five notes, but as your fingers move across the fretboard, you’ll repeat these notes in higher or lower octaves. Those five notes are:
These five notes can also be found among the seven notes making up the previously mentioned C major scale. The notes A, C, and E also comprise the A minor triad chord.
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A Minor Pentatonic Scale Positions
There are a variety of ways to play the A minor pentatonic scale. In this lesson, we’ll learn how to play it two different ways. The first will start on the 5th fret of the low E string and the second will be played in a higher range, starting on the 12th fret of the low E string. Play both and listen to the differences in tone.
For this lesson, we’ll learn how to play using charts. These diagrams represent the neck of your guitar. The numbered dots show where to place your fingers on the fretboard to play the scale. The fingers of your fretting hand are represented with a corresponding number that shows the correct way to place your fingers to play the scale:
The white dots represent open strings, which are played without your finger touching a fret.
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A Minor Pentatonic Scale Chart: 5th position
To start, place your first (index) finger on the 5th fret of the low E string. Stretch your pinkie to the 8th fret of the same string. As you move through the notes in this scale, notice that your index finger will play the 5th fret of each of the six strings on your guitar and that your third (ring) and fourth (pinkie) fingers will play either the 7th or 8th fret to when playing this scale.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Chart: 12th Position
Now, let’s play the A minor pentatonic scale in a higher register. Start on the 12th fret of the low E string. Similar to the version we just played, you’ll use your first (index) finger to play a pattern on most -- but not all -- of your strings. On the B string, you’ll use your second (middle) finger to play the 13th fret.
Take a look at the diagram below to see the similarities and differences between playing the A minor pentatonic scale in the 5th position versus the 12th position.Then, play it and hear the difference for yourself.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Tabs
To play the notes on the third string, you’ll need to shift your fingers. Move your index finger to the fourth fret to play the B note and use your middle finger to play the C note on the fifth fret. You’ll play the D note on the seventh fret with your pinky. Then, shift your index finger back to the fifth fret on the first and second strings.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Tabs: 5th Position
Let’s play the lower octave version of the A minor pentatonic scale, beginning on the low E string (the one closest to you, if you’re looking down at your guitar). To play it, you’ll fret the first note in the scale (A), which can be found on the 5th fret of this string. Place your index finger on the 5th fret -- think of this as your “home base”. Then, you’ll play two notes on each string, moving across the fretboard.
For the stretch from frets 5 to 8, it will be easiest to use the index finger and pinky finger, respectively. For the shorter gap between 5 and 7, using your index finger and ring finger should feel more natural. Now, let’s play it in reverse (descending) order.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Tabs: 12th Position
Another way to approach the scale would be to start playing it an octave higher than the one before. We’ll still start on the low E string, but instead will use the 12th fret as a starting point. You will hit all the same notes as in the previous example, but this time, the pattern will look a little different.
Start on the 12th fret of the low E string, stretching to the 12th fret of the same string. From there, we’ll repeat the same pattern on the A string. The pattern changes on the D string, where you’ll play the 12th fret, followed by the 14th fret. This 12th and 14th fret pattern changes once again on the G string before switching things up yet again on the B string. On the B string, you’ll play the 13th fret, followed by the 15th. Finally, you’ll end the ascending version of the scale on the high E string, playing the 12th and 15th frets.
A Minor Pentatonic Chords
What if you wanted to take the five notes in the A minor pentatonic scale and expand them into full chords? These chords will be formed by three notes, or triads, which include: a root note (which gives us the letter name), either a major or minor 3rd, and a perfect 5th. Here are the relevant chords, which each contain three of the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale.
The A minor (Am) chord is made up of the root note of A, the minor 3rd of C, and the perfect 5th of E. Learn all about how to play it here.
For the C major chord, the root note is C, the major 3rd is E, and the perfect 5th is G. Here is how to play it.
The D minor (Dm) chord contains the root note of D, the minor 3rd of F, and the perfect 5th of A. Learn how to play Dm here.
In E minor (Em), the root note is E, the minor 3rd is G, and the perfect 5th is B. Here’s how to play Em.
For the G major chord, the root note is G, the major 3rd is B, and the perfect 5th is D. Find out how to play it.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale Exercises on Guitar
To memorize the A minor pentatonic scale, practice playing the scale ascending and descending. Start with the root note of A, then play C, D, E, G, and then a higher A. Use the 5th position pattern to play these notes, then work your way back down the scale, starting with that higher A and climbing back down to G, E, G, C, and the low A.
For an added bonus, try to practice alternate picking when playing the scale. You’ll not only train your ear, but build mechanical skill with fretting and picking the notes in different ways.
If you'd like to learn how to play even more chords, browse Fender Play's chord library, learn about chord types, and find tips on how to master them.
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