Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
The pentatonic scale is used widely in various genres of music, including rock, blues, funk, pop, metal, R&B and jazz. It’s a versatile and finger-friendly scale that every guitar player can benefit from knowing in and out!
In this guitar lesson, we’ll delve into a unique approach to playing the A minor pentatonic scale by utilizing diagonal movement. By playing only two or three adjacent strings in each vertical pattern of the scale before sliding into the next one, we can unlock different melodic possibilities and articulations and bring this scale to life in new ways.
A minor pentatonic scale
Here is the full A minor pentatonic scale across the guitar neck. You’ll also see two separate diagonal movements – the blue one, and the green one. The diagonal approach might be a bit advanced if you are just learning to play guitar. But even as a beginner guitar player, you’ll understand the value in this technique.
What each group of notes contained in a rectangle has in common is a pattern where two or three adjacent strings have two notes separated by one fret. In every pentatonic vertical pattern, there are at least two adjacent strings with this pattern.
In the main pentatonic pattern (the middle blue rectangle) there are three adjacent strings like this. And then in the pattern with the first green rectangle, there are also three adjacent strings.
Playing with diagonal movement
To incorporate the diagonal movement into your playing, follow these steps:
- Start in the first blue rectangle and play frets 3 to 5 on the low E string with the index and ring finger. Now do the same thing on the A string and then slide your ring finger to fret 7 on the D string. Now play 5 to 7 on the D and G strings in the same manner, but when you get to fret 7 of the G string, use your middle finger on that note, and then slide that to the 9th fret of the G string. From there, return to your index and middle finger to play frets 8 and 10 on the B and E strings.
- Once you can do this going up, try to follow the same sequence from the highest-sounding note to the lowest.
- Once you can go up and down, try focusing on creating musical phrases using just a couple of strings at a time, varying direction, and making use of the great sound of sliding in and out of the boxes.
- Next, move on to the green set of boxes. Start with your index finger on fret 10 of the low E string and then ring finger on fret 12. Do the same thing on the next two strings, but then on the D string, slide from fret 12 to 14 with your ring finger to get into the next pattern. From there play 12 to 14 on the G string in the same manner. Next, use your index finger to play fret 13 of the B string and then your ring finger on 15. Slide from fret 15 to 17 with your ring finger and then play 15 to 17 on the high E string with the index and ring finger.
- Again, try to go up and down the sequence, and then create smaller phrases using just a couple of strings at a time.
Apply this technique to different scales
After doing this in the key of A minor, it’s important to try it in all different keys, or even with different guitar scales. It’s all about knowing where your starting notes are.
In the graphic above, the red dots labeled “1” are the tonic. Those are the starting notes of the key. That doesn’t mean we need to start on those notes in the sequence or a solo, but that’s how we find the patterns. This entire fretboard pattern simply shifts up and down depending on the key.
As pictured, everywhere you see a 1 is the note A. If we were playing in the key of B and wanted B minor pentatonic, we would shift everything up two frets. This is the beauty of the guitar — everything looks the same no matter what key we play in. All of the patterns simply move around.
Keep at it — go slowly at first and get the patterns correct. With time and practice, you’ll be playing diagonal pentatonic scales like a pro!
Gary Heimbauer is a writer and instructor at Guitar Tricks, the original online guitar lessons program since 1998. With over four million members, Guitar Tricks is the premier guitar lessons platform for beginner guitarists and advanced players alike.