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Pentatonic scales

Beginner and Intermediate Acoustic Guitar Lessons- more on scales

We recently covered a scaling finger exercise to begin helping the beginner acoustic guitar player and the intermediate guitar player to be able to work on finger agility and coordination while moving up and down the fret board. The previous lessons on scales helps as both a warm up and cool down exercise, as well as an intro to getting the fingers of the left hand to begin working in coordination with the right hand flat-picking rhythms and cadence. In this next lesson, we will work on a basic soloing scale which can be used on the acoustic guitar or the electric guitar. In order to practice and develop well, you should be sure to have the best beginner acoustic guitar for your investment, size, and playability. Practicing on an inferior instrument can limit progress and cause frustration for any aspiring player.

From exercise to the pentatonic scale

The pentatonic scale is perhaps the most basic of rudimentary scales to learn on the acoustic or electric guitar. It is easily used and played over many different songs and chord progressions. All you really need to do is learn the basic form of the pentatonic scale across the fretboard, and then learn how to identify the correct root for the scale based on the song you are playing along with. It is good to train both the ear and the eye-hand coordination so you can know visually and with your trained ear the correct locations to begin a pentatonic scale with particular songs. A bit of practice with different songs in different keys is necessary to build a visual and auditory memory as to what is correct.

The Pentatonic scale is a simple scale with 5 notes per octave (every 8 scale notes). The root “penta” comes from the ancient Greek word “pente” which means literally “5”. The major or minor scale is considered a heptatonic scale which means “7” - or 7 notes per octave. In this basic acoustic guitar lesson we will be focusing on the pentatonic scale to begin.

There are two basic pentatonic scales, using the same fret pattern but different fingers (see diagram).

First, learn the Am (A minor) pentatonic scale. The root (or bottom note) of the scale, for which the scale get's its name (A) is achieved by placing the first finger on the 6th string 5th fret. Playing only 1 note at a time, start with that first finger on the 6th string, 5th fret, then play the 6th string 8th fret with the 4th finger. The next note would be back to the first finger on the 5th fret, 5th string. Continue alternating between the first finger and the 3rd or 4th finger as the diagram shows, until you have finished on the 1st string. Then play the scale in reverse. You have just completed the A minor pentatonic scale. Notice that the first finger never leaves the 5th fret (or never plays on any other fret). You can play this same pattern anywhere on the neck. If you identify the root note, you will be playing that note's minor version of the pentatonic scale.

Now, look at the A major portion of the diagram. It has the same basic pattern, yet starts with the 4th finger on the 5th fret, and the hand position is approximately 4 frets lower (closer to the headstock or nut). Play this scale upwards starting on the 6th string, and finishing on the first string. Then play this scale from the 1st string to the 6th string, 1 note at a time. You have just completed the A major pentatonic scale. Experiment with different songs while using this simple minor and major pentatonic scale pattern. Make sure you find the root of the chords in the song to try to figure out where your hand should be on the fretboard, depending on the key of the song. While doing this, try to figure out the key of the song as well as the root notes of the scale that fits, thereby training your ear and your ability to read chords and keys from printed music.

This beginner and intermediate acoustic guitar lesson was provided by Aaron Schulman from For more information on finding the right acoustic guitar, be sure to read more thorough acoustic guitar reviews at 


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