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How to Play the Pentatonic Scale in Other Keys on the Guitar

There are many keys in which you can play pentatonic scales on the guitar. Transposing the pentatonic scale is easy; with scale patterns on guitar, the patterns remain the same regardless of which key you’re playing in — you just change the position you play them in. Just as you can move a barre chord around the neck, you can shift the pentatonic patterns on a different tonic note.

How to play in F minor and Af on the guitar

The next key to play in after you get plenty of practice with the combined keys of E minor and G is the key of F minor and Af major. You can start this key by following the diagram here. In this new key, everything has been moved up one fret from the previous key of E minor and G.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Instead of putting the note names in the circles, the intervals are listed with “1” representing the 1st scale degree or tonic. The first diagram shows you what the interval structure looks like with F as the tonic, which produces F minor pentatonic. The second diagram shows you what the interval structure looks like with Af functioning as the tonic, which produces Af major pentatonic.

You can see an example in Transposing Pentatonic Patterns.

Although the fret numbers change from key to key, the pattern shapes always stay the same. Initially, you may get thrown off in the F minor and Af major key because you’re used to the patterns starting at certain frets and fitting between the inlaid markers on your fretboard in a particular way (as they did in E minor and G).

The location of the two tonics and their common chord shapes remain the same, too. The first note in pattern 1 is still your minor tonic, and the second note in pattern 1 is your major tonic. In this case, the minor tonic is F, and the major is Af. The chord shapes common in the E minor and G major key are common in this key and all others.

How to play in Fs minor and A major on the guitar

As you move up to transpose again, the next key that you can play the pentatonic scale patterns in is Fs minor and A major. Use this diagram as you practice patterns 1 through 5 in this new key.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can play these pentatonic scale patterns over any piece of music that centers on either an Fsm or A chord.

How to play in G minor and Bf major on the guitar

When playing in the next key, G minor and Bf major, you begin pattern 1 at the 3rd fret, as shown here. Starting in this position leaves you room to fit a pattern 5 before it. When you play pattern 5 in this position, you use two open strings — the 4th and 3rd.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

In this example, pattern 1 is in gray just to make it easier for you to see your starting point.

The higher pattern 1 is positioned on the fretboard, the more space you have to fill behind it leading back to the open position. As you continue to move up to new keys, you increasingly play more patterns behind pattern 1. Don’t forget to use the open strings when they apply.

You can play these pentatonic scale patterns over any piece of music that centers on either a Gm or Bf chord.

How to play in Gs minor and B major and other keys on the guitar

As you continue to move up the fretboard, get used to playing the pentatonic scale patterns in other keys. The more you practice, the more skill you’ll develop. As you practice transposing, you can start keys at each and every fret.

If you feel a little lost, review how to move from patterns 1 to 5 and back again in the different keys. The next key to practice after G minor and Bf major is Gs minor and B major, followed by A minor and C major, and so on.

How to play in A minor and C major on the guitar

The key of A minor and C major is one of the most popular guitar keys. Here are the pentatonic patterns in the key of A minor and C major.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

When you start pattern 1 at fret 5, as shown in gray, you can fit a pattern 5 and a pattern 4 before it. Pattern 5 starts at the 3rd fret of the 6th string. Pattern 4 starts on the 6th string open.

You can play these pentatonic scale patterns over any piece of music that centers on either an Am or C chord.

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