The Minor pentatonic scale is a staple of rock guitar playing. You would have heard it on pretty much any rock/metal album ever released, as well as in most other musical styles. The reason why it’s used so often is due to – one, the versatility of the scale tones it employs, and two, the fact that it’s damn easy to play! You should all be familiar with the basic ‘box’ shape shown in Exercise 1/Shape 1. Some guitarists spend their whole lives playing just this one shape and scale (and there’s nothing wrong with that – there are countless subtleties and nuances to be explored) However, there are other ways to play a Minor pentatonic and I’d like to show you a few of these.

Before doing so, I’ll briefly explain what a Minor pentatonic actually is. You take the full seven note Natural minor scale (1-2-b3=4=5=b6-b7), but you omit the second and sixth. So you’re left with five notes (1-b3-4-5-b7) hence the word ‘penta’.


The main way to extend the first basic ‘box’ pattern is to expand the range by playing it all over the neck. If the five notes of Minor pentatonic are ordered across the fretboard you actually get five ‘box’ patterns. Notated here in A minor, play through each one ascending/descending consecutively.  Some other ways to practice this include: Alternate ascending through one then descending through the next, pause and end on the root notes for each shape (memorizing the root notes is very important), continue the patterns across the neck as high and as low as you can go, practice playing the notes up/down on one string by sliding between each note, improvise while moving between shapes, practice them in different keys. The goal here is see these as the one big shape, rather than five separate ones. In other words, learn these patterns but then try to forget about them!

Hear Exercise 1


The remaining exercises are in E Minor and they highlight some different ways of using Minor pentatonic besides the basic ‘box’ shapes. A great way to do this is to play the scale on only one string. Exercise 2 arranges the notes of E Minor pentatonic onto the first string and descends with a three-group triplet sequence using hammer-ons/pull-offs and slides.

Hear Exercise 2


You can also expand Minor pentatonic licks by using the one ‘box’ shape but incorporating extra notes from the next shape higher. For example, if you’re in twelfth position shape 1 in E Minor on the first string, you could reach up and play the 17th fret which would be part of shape 2. Exercise three takes this a step further by using four notes on the first string (using four fingers) and three on the second. This involves a large stretch, but the result is a looping, alternate-picked ‘shred’ style lick.

Hear Exercise 3


As long as you just play the five tones of the scale (1-b3-4-5-b7) you will be playing Minor pentatonic, but these notes can be placed in any order. This lick arranges E minor pentatonic into a six-string sweep arpeggio. Ascending from the sixth to first string, the scale tones are – 1-5-b3-4-b7-1-5.

Hear Exercise 4


Two-handed tapping is another way to create uncommon and interesting Minor pentatonic sounds. Here we slide through different shapes in the left hand, while tapping various scale tones with the right. This produces a long, fluid line featuring wide intervals.

Hear Exercise 5

These are just a few of the many and varied ways of using the Minor pentatonic scale. Hopefully they inspire you to ‘break out of the box’.