Straight away, seeing these, it’s obvious why the Minor scales are preferred by most guitarists. For a start, the positions and fingering are easier to memorise, plus the Minor scale will always be more forgiving whenever you’re thrown in the deep end and asked to chuck together an impromptu guitar solo.
However, looking at these patterns, they do a better job of illustrating how the different scale positions actually overlap. The higher notes on each string for each position become the lower notes (again on each string) for the next position.
The Minor scale will always be more forgiving whenever you’re thrown in the deep end and asked to chuck together an impromptu guitar solo
If I were to try and epitomise what kind of music suits using a Major Pentatonic scale (remembering that the Blues is strongly associated with the Minor Pentatonic scales) I’d have to say the more upbeat (as in mood) pop and rock songs, especially some of the very early rock and roll like Elvis and The Monkees.
But, a lot of modern tunes with a positive vibe and groove are written in Major keys and you can jam a lead riff over these using the Major Pentatonic patterns. The fourth and fifth positions suit harder, heavier music and, as you can see, have simpler patterns to learn.
Some guitar aficionados tell us that there is another “fifth” position for the A Major Pentatonic scale which is below the first position shown above. It’s a pattern covering the first five frets of the guitar. Rather than give you a diagram, it’s quite easy to work out and an interesting exercise to go through.
Sometimes it’s unofficially referred to as the “acoustic” fifth position. The reason is practical—on some acoustic guitars without a cutaway body playing the other fifth position starting on the 14th fret is a real finger-stretcher and just too hard—and it’s not really acoustic guitar territory either.
Remembering that these Pentatonic scales are mostly known for their lead solo applications, then playing a lead break on an acoustic guitar above the 14th fret is either brilliantly Tommy Emmanuelle-esque or you’ve had way too much coffee.
On an electric guitar another issue might become apparent when you’re practising the fourth and fifth positions. Your guitar might sound slightly out of tune and you’ll wonder if you’re doing something wrong.
The bottom line here is that if good ol’ reliable Minor Pentatonic scales aren’t doing the trick for you, try switching to a Major scale pattern and all your problems should go away
If your guitar isn’t really well set up by a technician, the electric guitar’s intonation will probably be the cause. The intonation is a combined and very precise adjustment of each string’s length and height using the moveable bridge points… it’s a subject for an entirely different blog, but all you need to know is that poor intonation can result in the guitar playing a little sharp or flat at the very high fret positions.
Most of the time solo players are bending the hell out of the strings at that point anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. But when you’re steadily plucking through these scales to learn them, you might hear it.
The bottom line here is that if good ol’ reliable Minor Pentatonic scales aren’t doing the trick for you, try switching to a Major scale pattern and all your problems should go away. At least learn the A Major Pentatonic scale at the first position—which by now you know will easily transpose up and down the neck—and you’ll have another neat guitar-playing trick to pull out of your hat when the pressure’s on.