How to Use the Moveable Pentatonic Scale to Play Lead Rock Guitar

Probably the greatest invention ever created for lead rock guitarists is the pentatonic scale. Its construction and theory have spawned countless theoretical discussions, but for rock guitar purposes, it just sounds good.

Staying at home position

The main position for the pentatonic scale is in 5th position. This is the home position of the pentatonic scale in C major or A minor. For simplicity’s sake, you will only use one scale, A minor. Most of the same qualities discussed can be applied to C major as well. This is the A minor pentatonic scale in 5th position, shown in tab and a vertically oriented diagram.

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Although this scale looks to be positioned fairly high up the neck, only two of its notes — the 8th-fret C and 5th-fret A, both on the 1st string — are out of range in open position. The rest of the pitches can be found in other places in open position.

For example, the 8th fret on the 2nd string is a G, which is the same G as the 1st string, 3rd fret — a note that’s easily played in open position. So as you step through these notes in 5th position, be aware that you can play almost all of those same pitches in an open-position location as well.

The next step is to learn the various ways to play the same scale but in a different position, starting on a different note. This is known in music as an inversion. An inversion of something (a scale, a chord) is a different ordering of the same elements.

Going above home position

After the home position, you may feel restless and yearn to break out of the box. To extend your reach, learn the pentatonic scale in the position immediately above the home position. This is a map of the A minor pentatonic scale in 7th position.

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These are exactly the same notes (except the highest note, the 1st string, 10th fret, which is out of the home position’s range) as those found in 5th position.

Dropping below home position

To apply some symmetry in your life, learn the pentatonic scale form immediately below the home position. This shows the scale form immediately below the home position. It’s played out of 2nd position and has one note on the bottom that the 5th position doesn’t have, the low G on the 6th string, 3rd fret.

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Take a moment and see what you’ve accomplished so far. You can now play one scale, the A minor pentatonic, in three different positions: 2nd, 5th, and 7th. If you look at the neck diagram with all three patterns superimposed on the frets. It’s presented in two ways: as three separate but interlocking patterns (triangles, dots, and squares), and the union of those patterns, the notes available (as just dots).

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Note how the patterns “dovetail,” or overlap: The bottom of the 5th position acts as the top of the 2nd position, and the top of the 5th position acts as the bottom of the 7th position.

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