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Moving Past The Pentatonic Scales

Moving Past The Pentatonic Scales


Pentatonic scales are a great way to start improvising on guitar. Pentatonic patterns are simple and easy to memorize, and they remove some of the riskier note options, essentially ensuring that every note choice will land safely. However, those riskier notes that the pentatonic scale removes can also be some of the most effective note choices when used well. So while the pentatonic scale is a great scale to start soloing with, learning the full major and minor scales are an important next step for your guitar playing. Luckily, the full major and minor scales are not very different than their pentatonic counterparts. If you have a solid grasp of those pentatonic scales, then you’ve already done most of the work involved in learning the full major and minor scales.



Full Minor Scale

Before we get into the full minor scale, let’s review the minor pentatonic scale. There are multiple fingering patterns one can use to play a minor pentatonic but below is tablature for the most common pattern. The pattern is in the key of A-minor in this example, but it can be applied to any key. Play through the pentatonic scale a couple of times if you feel like you can use the refresher, and try jamming on it for a bit if you could use the refresher. 

A-Minor Pentatonic Scale

We’re now going to add the notes from the full minor scale that are absent from the minor pentatonic. The notes missing from the minor pentatonic are the second and sixth scale degrees, which in the key of A-minor are the notes B and F. As the above minor pentatonic spans a little over two octaves, the newly added scale degrees are both going to occur multiple times. The second scale degree is going to occur three times and the sixth scale degree is going to occur twice, for a total of five additional notes to add to the shape. The full A-minor scale is tabbed out below. 


A-Minor Scale


Try playing through the above A-minor scale shape until you feel a bit more comfortable with it. Once you feel ready, try jamming on the full A-minor scale and give special attention to the new notes you just added. Explore the way they sound and try your best to integrate them into the licks and phrases you already know. The scale should feel mostly familiar, but those new note options can make all the difference in the world to its sound. If you’re looking for something to play along with, the backing track below will work great.


Full Major Scale

The process of adding notes to the major pentatonic scale is going to be just like adding them to the minor pentatonic. The most common major pentatonic scale isn’t quite as standard as the most common minor pentatonic shape, but the shape tabbed out below is still most likely the one you’re familiar with. If there’s a different major pentatonic shape you prefer, then feel free to use it instead and adjust as needed. The below scale is in the key of C-major, but like the above A-minor pentatonic shape, it can be moved to any key. As with the minor pentatonic, review and jam on the below scale if needed before moving on.

C-Major Pentatonic


The notes removed from the major pentatonic are the fourth and seventh scale degrees of the major scale, so those are the notes we need to add back into the scale. In the key of C-major, the fourth scale degree is an F and the seventh scale degree is a B. If those notes sound familiar, it’s because those are the same notes we added to the A-minor scale. The fourth scale degree and seventh scale degree both occur twice in the full major scale, for a total of four additional notes to add to the pentatonic. You can see the full C-major tabbed out below. 

C-Major Scale


As with the full minor scale, try playing through the above major scale until you feel solid with it. Once you feel up to it, try jamming using the above major scale shape. Give special attention to the new notes you added, see how they sound, and try blending them into the major pentatonic licks you already know. The backing track below will work well for the C-major (don’t let the fact that it’s labeled D-Dorian dissuade you, the notes are the same as C-major), and the backing track above will do the trick as well. 


I hope you learned something from this article! If you have any questions, comments, corrections (I have been known to commit the more than occasional type or notation mistake), or requests for future articles like this one, please feel free to reach out to me at


Ben Fitts is a musician, writer, and instructor at New York City Guitar School. He is the guitarist of the indie rock band War Honey, the author of numerous works including the short story collection My Birth And Other Regrets, and a former NYC Guitar School student himself.


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