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How To Use The

Pentatonic Scale

By Bob Murnahan



After receiving his first guitar at the age of 8, Bob began his now 42 year quest to learn as much as possible about playing the guitar. He has studied privately and at the collegiate level in the jazz studies program at the Ohio State University.

His career highlights include a tour of Europe with performances at the North Sea Jazz festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. He has also done a stint in Vegas and played in the pit orchestra for the musicals Grease and Jesus Christ Superstar. Bob is also a veteran of the recording studio on group recordings and doing session work.

He stopped counting the number of students that come to him for private lessons at 1200. He has also toured the country as a clinician for Peavey Guitars. He is currently endorsed by Godin Guitars.

A few of his best selling products include: Pentatonic Power

The Pentatonic Power Insider

Clapton Torn Down

Bob currently lives in Colorado with his wife Lynn and his 2 teenage sons (twin boys and budding musicians).

Table of Contents

Lesson 1:

How To Play The Pentatonic Scale

Page 5

Lesson 2:

Pentatonic Scale Patterns

Page 8

Lesson 3:

Typical Pentatonic Blues Licks

Page 10

Lesson 4:

More Typical Blues Licks

Page 14

Lesson 5:

More Patterns

Page 17

Lesson 6:

Guitar Riffs

Page 18

Lesson 7:

More Guitar Riffs

Page 20

Lesson 8:

Still More Guitar Riffs

Page 22

Lesson 9:

The Blues Scale

Page 24

Lesson 10: The Pentatonic Scale Fingerings Page 25

Lesson 11: The Blues Scale Fingerings

Page 27

Lesson 12: How To Play The Entire Fretboard Page 28

Lesson 13: Passing Tones

Page 30

Lesson 14: How To Use Passing Tones

Page 32

Lesson 15: Putting It All Together

Page 34


Have you ever wondered how players like Page, Clapton and Beck use the pentatonic scale to play lead guitar? How about guitarists like Van Halen and Vai? Or how jazz guitarists like Pat Metheny and George Benson use the pentatonic scale?

If so, then you’ve come to the right place. In the series of lessons to follow you wil be guided through a step by step sequence of instruction to help you play lead guitar.

Take Your Lead Guitar Playing To The Next Level!

In The lessons That Follow You Will Learn

• The most commonly used fingerings of the pentatonic scale.

• Guitar licks that you can use as a starting point to develop your own solos.

• Exercises to help you improve your technique.

• How to use passing tones to give your playing that extra spice that sound great.

The goal of these lessons is not just to memorize a bunch of guitar licks, although this is recommended and wil help you improve. The goal is to give you a starting point that you can use to learn how to improvise and make up your own solos.

The fun and joy that comes from being able to improvise is worth all the effort and practice that it takes to get there. Be patient and you wil improve. Try to set aside a consistent time each day to practice and you wil reach your goals.

To your guitar playing success,

Bob Murnahan


Lesson 1. How To Play The Pentatonic Scale Welcome to lesson 1 of the pentatonic scale. In this lesson you will learn how to read scale diagrams and tablature. You will also learn the most commonly used fingering for this scale.

Let's start by looking at a pentatonic scale diagram.

Here is a very important concept. Notice that this diagram of the pentatonic scale has no open strings. This means you can play it anywhere on the guitar.

The fret does not matter. Just make sure you keep the spacing between your fingers the same as you move the scale around the neck.

When you move to a different fret, you are changing the key. Don't worry if you don't know what this means, more on this in a later lesson.

When reading this diagram of the pentatonic scale, start on the left hand side of the diagram.

This is the low E string (6th string). Play all of the notes on this string from top to bottom before moving on to the next string. In this example you would play 2 notes on the 6th string. The 1st finger followed by the 4th finger.

On the 5th string you would play 1st finger followed by the 3rd finger. The 4th string would be 1st finger and 3rd finger again. Continue in this manner until you play the entire pentatonic scale.

When you arrive at the end of the scale, turn around and go back down the scale. In reverse, you would start on the 1st string and play 4th finger followed by the 1st finger.

The 2nd string would also be 4th finger, 1st finger. The 3rd string would be 3rd finger, 1st finger.

Here are some other things to keep in mind as you play the scale on your guitar.

1. Most of the scales that you will learn in these lessons cover a span of 4 frets. Follow the recommended fingerings using one finger per fret.

If you have to stretch beyond that, it is no big deal to reach back with your 1st finger or stretch out with your 4th finger.

2. To get your fingers in the proper playing position, allow your left hand to hang by your side completely relaxed. Turn your palm forward and without moving the upper arm, raise your forearm until your hand touches the edge of the fret board at the point where your fingers meet your palm.

3. Place the thumb in the center of the neck behind your 1st finger. Arch your fingers over until they press down on the 3rd string. The tips of the fingers should be at a 90 degree angle to the fret board. The string should make a mark in the center of the fingers.

4. As you spread your fingers to cover the 4 fret distance, they should be well separated at their middle joints. Your 1st finger should lean towards the head stock and your little finger will lean towards the bridge.

5. When playing a note with the 1st finger, the string mark should be more on the side of your finger towards your thumb and the mark on your little finger will be out by the side of your hand.

6. The palm of your hand should be parallel to the bottom of the neck.

7. These are general guidelines. This will vary depending on where you are at on the neck as you play. I would recommend that you find a good teacher in your area if you are just starting out. Learning proper technique from the beginning is a great way to avoid headaches later on.


Here's the pentatonic scale in guitar tablature Example 1

Your goal for this lesson on the pentatonic scale is simply to memorize the pentatonic scale. As with all things in music, go slowly. Use a metronome when you practice and get plenty of repetitions.

If you were to play the pentatonic scale 20 times a day, 5 days a week for one month, that would be 400 repetitions in a month. It doesn't take a lot of time to do this, and it's this kind of practice that will help you learn guitar in the shortest time possible.

Do the repetitions and I promise it will be worth it. When you start to get command over the tools of music like the pentatonic scale, your enjoyment of playing will increase many times over.


Lesson 2. Pentatonic Scale Patterns

Welcome to lesson 2. In this lesson on the pentatonic scale you will learn about patterns and their importance as you continue on the path to learn guitar.

Pentatonic scale patterns, sometimes referred to as sequences, are one of the best things you can practice to gain more command of the pentatonic scale. In my experience, they are a must if you are even half way serious about learning the guitar. I will be the first to admit that they can be tedious to practice, but the long term rewards are definitely worth it.

What is a pattern? Look at this example using words. Red, green, blue, red, green, blue. What would be the next word in this pattern? Red is the obvious answer. A pattern is simply a sequence that gets repeated over and over Look at the diagram of the pentatonic scale below as an example.

The scale is shown with each note numbered from 1-12. Now the numbers can be sequenced as follows.

(1 2 3) (2 3 4) (3 4 5) (4 5 6) (5 6 7) (6 7 8) (7 8 9) (8 9 10) (9 10 11) (10 11 12) To play this sequence of the scale, start on number 1 and play 1, 2, 3. Then go back to number 2 and play 2, 3, 4. Next would be 3, 4, 5. etc. Play this until you go through the entire pattern.



To play it in reverse simply read from right to left. In reverse this pentatonic scale pattern would be 12, 11, 10. Then play 11, 10 , 9, and continue in this manner until you get back to the beginning.

Here is the same pentatonic scale pattern written in tablature.

Example 2

As always, play each example at a speed that is easy for you to manage. Since this example breaks up the pentatonic scale into 3 note chunks or triplets, keep a steady 1 2 3 count going as you practice this pattern. The use of a metronome is highly recommended.

That's it for lesson 2. Be sure to practice the scale daily. It is the only way to reach your musical goals.


Lesson 3. Typical Pentatonic Blues Licks Welcome to lesson 3 of the pentatonic scale, pentatonic blues licks. In this lesson you will be learning some ways to use the pentatonic scale in a solo.

Several typical pentatonic blues licks will be used as a starting point to develop your knowledge of the pentatonic scale. Grab your guitar and get tuned up and let's go.

Take a look at example 3. This lick will be used as a springboard for all of the licks to follow, so make sure you nail this one.

Example 3.

The first thing to notice about this lick is a bend at the 7th fret, 3rd string.

This type of bend is very common in pentatonic blues licks. If you are not used to bending here are some guidelines for this lick and those to follow.

This bend needs to raise the note one whole step. This is equal to 2 frets on the guitar. A good way to practice bends of this type is to listen to a target note and try to match it. In this case, play the note at the 9th fret on the 3rd string. This is your target note. Really get the sound in your ear.

Now put your 3rd finger on the 7th fret 3rd string and your 2nd finger on the 6th fret 3rd string. Use both fingers to push the string up until it matches the pitch of your target note. You will find that bending is much easier if you use two fingers to bend the note. Your thumb should be over the top of the neck for added stability.


After you bend the note, then play the 2nd string 5th fret followed by the 1st string 5th fret. There is no time signature for these licks. The idea is to play them as quarter notes and to loop them. It is typical of these pentatonic blues licks to be played over and over in a loop. As you play this lick just count 1-2-3

over and over and keep it steady.

Example 4.

This lick and all of the pentatonic blues licks to follow all start with the lick from example 3. A pull off has been added to expand the lick from example 3.

The pull off is on the second string going from the 8th fret to the 5th fret. You should use your 4th finger and first finger to play these two notes. If you do not know how to do a pull off the following guidelines should help.

The idea of a pull off is to get two or more notes to sound by only picking the the string one time. In this example and the pentatonic blues licks to follow, you will be getting two notes to sound but you will only pick the string they are on once.

First, pick the note at the 8th fret, second string, then pull your little finger down towards the first string. I often tell people that a pull off should be called a pull down. If you pull your finger up off the string the second note (the one you are pulling off to) will not be loud enough or not heard at all. By pulling down towards the 1st string your little finger will be snapping off the 2nd string creating a strong pull off. Be sure to listen for this snapping sound as you pull off.



The note you pull off to should be as loud as the note you pick. I try to pull my little finger into the 1st string and use the first string to stop the downward motion of the pull off. By allowing the little finger to come to rest on the 1st string also prevents any unwanted noise.

Example 5.

This example in our study of pentatonic blues licks is a lot like example 4. The only difference is that the pull off has been moved over to the 1st string.

When pulling off of the 1st string you still want to pull down and get that snap. Be careful not to pull the string off the edge of the fret board. Again, keep it steady.

Example 6.

This lick is a variation on the previous 2 pentatonic blues licks, combining the pull offs and putting them both in the same lick. This is an example of how you can really create a lot of different ideas with just a few different notes.

You can combine and recombine same pieces of what you know to get a lot of different ideas to use in your playing.



Example 7.

Here the pull offs are reversed from the previous example. You can really start to learn how easy it is to create variations and form many pentatonic blues licks by playing around with these ideas. I really encourage you to play around and create some of your own.

Example 8.

This lesson on pentatonic blues licks concludes with the pull offs going down the scale and ending on the 4th string, 7th fret. Try using the concept from the previous examples and change the string order of the pull offs. You can also delete a note here or there and see what you come up with. The main thing is to just experiment and have fun. You never know what you might discover.

If you would like to see some of these ideas on video along with some more great FREE lessons, then follow this link ,

Get instant access to more tab, jam tracks and other cool stuff.


Lesson 4. More Typical Blues Licks

Welcome to lesson 4 of the pentatonic scale. In this lesson you will be learning more ways to use the scale in a solo. Additional typical blues licks will be used to develop your knowledge of the pentatonic scale. Grab your guitar, get tuned up and let's go.

Take a look at example 9. In this lick we see our old friend from lesson 3 as our starting point. The lick then descends in the pentatonic scale with a slight twist at the end of the lick going from the 5th fret 3rd string to the 5th fret 4th string. The lick then resolves to 7th fret, 4th string.

This example begins to show how to use the pentatonic scale in a more drawn out fashion.

This lick is also written using all eighth notes in the first measure and ends with a whole note at the beginning of the second measure. Be sure to keep the eighth notes evenly spaced.

Play slowly at first and the speed will follow naturally.

Example 9.

Example 10 uses part of the pattern learned in lesson 2 on the pentatonic scale. It starts with the descending pattern in triplets and on the last triplet of measure 1 you will find our springboard lick from lesson 3. Hopefully you can see how you can combine parts of what you already know to create pentatonic blues licks like these.



This lick ends up with a bend on the 8th fret, second string. If you want to get more power in your bend, use your 3rd finger to play and bend that note instead of your 4th finger. In playing this pattern of the pentatonic scale, your 4th finger naturally lands on this note, but it is ok to change fingerings to make playing easier.

Example 10.

In example 11 the lick is a little longer and expands our use of the pentatonic scale even more. Take your time and let your fingers learn where they are supposed to go. Use these examples to create your own pentatonic licks.

Experiment and see what you can create on your own.

Example 11.

Example 12 uses triplets again and covers two measures. This lick is pretty much just down the pentatonic scale and back up again. There is just a little twist right at the end of the lick and our old favorite to start this lick off. See how many ways we have been able to use this same idea over and over again.



Example 12.

The last lick of this lesson on the pentatonic scale begins guessed it, our favorite 3 notes from the pentatonic scale. Listen to Whole Lotta Love to hear these notes played by Jimmy Page. You can hear them in the 1st and 3rd licks of that solo.

Example 13.

I hope you are enjoying these lessons on the pentatonic scale. My goal is to inspire you to create your own music and solos using these tools.

For extra help be sure to visit You will discover lots of extra resources there including video, tab and jam tracks.



Lesson 5. More Patterns

Welcome to lesson 5 on the pentatonic scale. In this lesson you will learn a second pattern. In my opinion, practicing patterns is the quickest way to develop your ability to play lead guitar. You learn flexibility and receive great ear training from practicing patterns. These are both essential ingredients in creating your own guitar riffs from the pentatonic scale, or any other scale for that matter.

This pattern is broken up into 4 note fragments that repeat on successive steps of the scale. As always, play with a steady tempo and if you have a metronome, use it! Use alternate picking and pay attention to your tone.

It is written in the key of A minor and when your comfortable with it at the 5th fret, move it around the and play it in different frets.

Example 14.

That wraps it up for lesson 5. See you in the next lesson.



Lesson 6. Guitar Riffs

Welcome to lesson 6. In this lesson I would like to share a few licks that are based on patterns

This first lick is very similar to a run that Slash played at the end of Sweet Child O Mine. Pay attention here and recognize the pattern. Remember, that's the focus of this lesson, using patterns to create guitar riffs Example 15.

Example 16 makes use of the pattern from lesson 5. It starts with a bend and then descends using the pattern, changes direction and ends with another bend. When using patterns to create your own guitar riffs it's the changes in direction and the unexpected twists that make patterns effective. If you go on too long with a pattern, your licks will become predictable and boring.

Example 16.


Example 17 demonstrates another pentatonic scale pattern. As always, take your time and play with a steady tempo. Remember to use your metronome if you have one.

Example 17.

That's it for lesson 6. In lesson 7 we will continue our study of the pentatonic scale. Thanks for reading and keep practicing. Stay focused and you will reach your goals.


Lesson 7. More Guitar Riffs

In this lesson on guitar riffs I would like to share a few ideas to help you come up with your own licks. Although there is no magic formula, I hope these tips will be useful for you. Have an open attitude and experiment. Above all, let your ear be your guide.

Some of these ideas may seem a little crazy at first but you never know what you might come up with. This is where the open attitude and a willingness to try things can come in handy.

Tip number 1...limit yourself. What do I mean by this. Try to create little melodies and guitar riffs by only playing the notes of the pentatonic scale on the first 2 strings, or the 2nd and 3rd strings. You get the idea. By limiting yourself in this way you will be surprised at what you can discover. Try it and see.

Tip number 2...this is a variation on tip number 1. Play with wide string skips.

In other words, play on only the 1st and 3rd strings or 2nd and 4th strings.

These big skips and wide intervals can really produce some interesting sounds.

Tip number 3...combine portions of licks you already know.

Tip number 4...Pick 10 notes from the pentatonic scale and number them 0-9.

You will have something like the following. I picked the order of these notes at random. You can do as many of these as you like.

Now get out your phone book. You read that right, get out your phone book.

Open it to any page and start getting phone numbers. Here are a couple out of mine.

475-1389, 228-7860, 258-3685, 863-0652

This should give you endless ways to create guitar riffs. Try combining 2 or 3

phone number to create longer licks. Some of these will be totally ridiculous but I guarantee you will find some cool note combinations to use in your own solos.

Tip number 5...this one is similar to the last one. Pick 6 notes at random out of the pentatonic scale. Number them 1-6. Now get some dice and roll them.

Use the numbers that come up to create even more guitar riffs.

Tip number 6...this one has nothing to do initially with making up your own solos, but ultimately it will. Commit to learning a lick a day by one of your favorite guitarists. Keep adding to your vocabulary. The more you have to draw from, the better you will be able to play.

I hope you like these ideas. I know they seem a little crazy but if you give them a chance you will make some interesting discoveries.

That does it for lesson 7. Keep practicing and prepare for lesson 8.