At some stage, every guitarist experiences minor-pentatonic burnout after exploring the scale in every shape and fretboard position. We’re here to help you revitalize your pentatonic practice with the lighter and brighter sounds of the minor pentatonic’s sister scale – the major pentatonic!

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the major pentatonic scale and show you:

  • How to build the major pentatonic scale
  • The five major pentatonic scale positions
  • Which guitarists use the major pentatonic scale
  • The connection between major and minor pentatonic

What is the major pentatonic scale?

The major pentatonic is a five-note scale that’s a favorite among guitarists when they want to create an uplifting sound.

  • You can hear the major pentatonic in folk, country, pop, blues, and many more.
  • The major scale contains seven notes but the major pentatonic only has five – penta means five.
  • To turn a major scale into a major pentatonic we just remove two intervals: the 4th and 6th.
  • This leaves us with the intervals Root, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th.

If this doesn’t make sense just yet, don’t worry! We’ll go into more detail later.

When would I use the major pentatonic scale?

Here are a few solid reasons to add this scale to your repertoire:

  • To write melodies and solos – it’s great for creating upbeat hooks!
  • For improvisation – the major pentatonic is a failsafe option when playing in major keys.
  • During a songwriting session – the simplicity of a pentatonic scale is often what makes those catchy pop songs get stuck in your head.

Another reason guitarists love the major pentatonic is that it’s so accessible, the shapes are easy to remember and there are tons of classic licks that we can bring over from the minor pentatonic with little adjustment.

What does the major pentatonic sound like?

The major pentatonic scale is a great sound when you want to change the vibe during a solo.

  • Adding notes from the major scale will instantly make whatever you’re playing sound sweeter and happier.
  • In the guitar world, the minor pentatonic dominates but that doesn’t mean the major pentatonic should be overlooked – sometimes going against the flow is what gives an artist their unique sound.
  • Some of the biggest names in guitar history have used the major pentatonic scale to great effect.

Check out this legendary BB King solo from his performance of Nobody Loves Me But My Mother in Sweden, 1986. The first two minutes of his solo are almost exclusively major pentatonic ideas:

The blues isn’t the only place you might hear the major pentatonic scale.

  • Traditional Chinese music also uses the scale as a basis for musical compositions and zither instruments such as the guzheng – all the strings are tuned to the notes of the major pentatonic.
  • Check out this performance of Fisherman’s song at Dusk to hear how versatile the major pentatonic can be.

How to build the major pentatonic scale

Now that our ears are tuned in to the sound of the major pentatonic scale, it’s time to learn how to play it!

For anyone who’s read our article on the minor pentatonic scale, you’ll be happy to know you can transfer a lot of what you learned over to the major pentatonic.

If you’re starting afresh, no worries! We’ve got you covered.

The major pentatonic scale is a five-note scale consisting of: Root – 2nd – 3rd – 5th – 6th

  • The major pentatonic scale is closely related to the major scale which includes all of the notes above, the addition of a 4th and 7th that would complete it.
  • The major pentatonic scale does an excellent job of outlining the chord tones of any major chord.

Finding the major pentatonic positions on the guitar fretboard

Like the minor pentatonic scale, the major pentatonic scale has 5 positions to learn.

  • Knowing the scale in all five positions allows you to move freely across the guitar fretboard.
  • It’s common for guitarists to get stuck in one position.
  • The best way to avoid getting boxed in is to learn the CAGED system.

Keep in mind, each position starts on a different note of the scale. It’s important to know where the root note is in each position (they are circled in black on the diagram).

Practice each position one at a time and take it slowly.

  • As you practice the major pentatonic scale positions, try to visualize how each shape interlocks with the next – this will help you break out of that boxed-in mindset!
  • To improve timing and coordination between both hands, practice to a fixed tempo – use our free metronome if you don’t have one.
  • Once you feel confident with two positions, practice moving between them.
  • You can have fun building muscle memory and timing by playing along to a backing track – Just search online for a “G major jam track” and pick one that gets you grooving.

The connection between major and minor pentatonic scales

If you’re familiar with the minor pentatonic shapes, you may have noticed that they’re identical to the major pentatonic – the only difference is the starting positions.

  • This is because every minor pentatonic scale has a closely related major pentatonic scale and both scales share the same notes.
  • It’s all about where you start in the scale that defines whether it is the minor pentatonic scale or a major pentatonic scale.

Check out the two scales below and notice that they are both created using the same set of notes, just starting from a different root:

Minor tips for major breakthroughs

It’s good practice to see how the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales are related as they can be linked together to help you move more seamlessly across the neck.

The major pentatonic scale and its relative minor are a major 6th apart. For example, if you were to start on G major pentatonic, the E minor pentatonic would be found a major 6th up, or a minor 3rd down.

In guitar terms, this means you can take a minor pentatonic shape, move it down three frets (minor 3rd) and you’ll be playing a major pentatonic!

We know it’s a lot of information to take in, if you’re still a little confused check out this fantastic explanation of the pentatonic scales from Dr Molly Miller:


Like most new concepts, it can take a little while to absorb all the information and put it to good use – but don’t give up!

If you stick with it, the major pentatonic will open up entirely new avenues for musical creativity, and increase your fretboard awareness.

  • The goal is to create fluency with the major pentatonic scale and know how to use it effectively in any situation.
  • To really get to grips with a scale you need to play it in different musical contexts and work on internalizing the feeling of each note and how it relates to the key or underlying chord.
  • Being able to sing through a scale is a great way to ensure you’ve locked it in your mind – not just your fingers.
  • Play a G major chord and then try to sing or hum the notes of the major pentatonic over it, you’ll get a much better connection with the scale if you can do this.

Interested in taking these ideas even further? Come and explore our Blues Learning Pathway guided by the masterful Seth Rosenbloom.

Author: Jack Handyside