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What is the Minor Pentatonic Scale?

The minor pentatonic scale is one of the most used scales found in all styles. It is used heavily in rock, blues, jazz and funk.

The scale contains 5 notes (don’t count the octave). It is a minor-sounding scale because of its flatted third. Remember, the flatted 3rd is what makes chords and scales have a minor quality.

This scale is popular because it is easy to play falling comfortably under your fingers. And, its sound is very pleasing. The notes of the scale go together so well it’s hard to play something bad with them. (Unless your rhythm needs work, of course.)

Whole-Step/Half-Step Construction of the Minor Pentatonic Scale

Part of the open-sounding nature of this scale comes from its whole- and half-step series construction. The minor pentatonic scale has no half-steps. It is only made up of whole-step and step-and-a-half intervals.

Starting on any root note the scale is built: 1-1/2 W W 1-1/2 W

Intervallic Construction of the Minor Pentatonic Scale

The intervals for the minor pentatonic scale are Root, m3, P4, P5, m7, and P8.

If you’ve learned the minor 7th chord pattern, you’ll notice this scale only has one note in addition to the minor 7th chord – the 4th.

One Octave Minor Pentatonic Scale Fingering

One of the most common fingerings for the minor pentatonic scale starts on your first finger. Play:

Root – 1st finger
Flat 3rd – 4th finger
4th – 1st finger
5th – 3rd finger
Flat 7th – 1st finger
Octave – 3rd finger

Applying the Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale is most easily applied over minor triads and minor 7th chords with the same root. You should notice that the minor pentatonic scale contains the notes of both of these chord patterns (Root, flat 3rd, 5th and flat 7th). Sharing notes in common is what makes this scale complementary to these types of chords. In nearly any style this scale should sound good played over these minor chords.

In my customary style I always have to point out how chords need to come before scales in your thinking as a bassist. This minor pentatonic scale is really a minor 7th chord with an extra note (the 4th). The reason this scale is so strong sounding and gets used so much is because it’s doing the chord-emphasizing for you. Unfortunately, since it’s a “scale” it gets beginners thinking scales are where its at, rather than chord patterns. Study your bass chord patterns!

The minor pentatonic scale can also be applied over dominant 7th chords. We'll examine this concept in future lessons. Playing the minor pentatonic over a dominant chord results in a bluesy sound found often in rock, blues, funk and jazz. This bluesy sound comes from the clash of the scale’s minor 3rd played over the dominant chord’s major 3rd. Many times it is the bass player who holds down the dominant sound while a soloist (guitar, piano, etc.) applies the minor pentatonic sound. But, bassists get to do it in riffs, solos and fills, too.

Since the minor pentatonic scale can be applied over minor chords and dominant 7th chords, it should be no surprise it is so widely used. Rock, blues, jazz and funk all make heavy use of minor and dominant chords and, as a result, the minor pentatonic scale.

Minor Pentatonic Scale Example Usage

Here are some minor pentatonic-based practice examples for you to check out. And, I've posted a few real-world song examples to study.

Minor Pentatonic Scale Details
Whole-step/half-step construction: 1-1/2, W, W, 1-1/2, W
Intervallic construction: Root, m3, P4, P5, m7, P8
C minor pentatonic scale spelling: C, Eb, F, G, Bb, C