How to learn scales on Guitar – CAGED Shapes and the Minor Pentatonic Scale

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One of the easier ways to learn and remember a scale is through mapping it against chords. We can achieve a better musical understanding by playing the chords with the scale.

In this post we will look at chords in CAGED shapes and the minor pentatonic scale. If you haven’t a clue what the CAGED shape is, do check out this post about guitar chords in CAGED shapes.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale consists of 5 notes. It is an essential tool as it is versatile and is great for creating catchy melodic hooks.

The notes of a minor pentatonic are:
1 b3 4 5 b7

In the key of A major, relative minor pentatonic would be F#minor:

1 b3 4 5 b7
F# A B C# E

It turns out that the notes are the same as A major pentatonic:

1 2 3 5 6
A B C# E F#

This scale can be used over minor sounding chord progressions and major sounding chord progressions.

The key(pun intended) lies in the how these notes are played over a chord. More on that in another post. For now, let us figure out how do we play the minor pentatonic scale on the guitar

The Low E string is at the bottom of the diagram and the high E string at the top of it

This diagram shows all five unique positions of a minor pentatonic scale. The CAGED shapes are for the major root chord. In the key of A major, the 1st position starts on the 2nd fret; we would have a F# minor pentatonic scale.

The root chord acts as an anchor for a chord progression. It is usually a starting and ending point for a chord progression. This makes practising the scale positions more purposeful as you see hear how these positions lead from one shape to another.

Here is a demonstration of how to play the minor pentatonic scale and CAGED chords against a beat.

Rhythm, harmony and melody encapsulated in a practice

How to learn the minor pentatonic scale fast

The five positions of the scales seem complex to remember. Well, they are visually. The following auditory approaches are much more suitable to internalize a scale.

To begin, use the CAGED shapes while playing the scale to break up the scale shapes into more manageable, familiar chunks of information for the ear to hear.

Also, try to sing the notes back as they are played. Sing the starting note to the ending note as the scale ascends or descends. In this example, it would be from F# to F#. For the next play through of the scales, try to hear and sing the notes before playing them. While all these are being done, try to look away from the diagram as much as possible.

Eventually, the ears will identify these positions as one single scale moving across the different octaves. Visually, it seems like five different shapes across the whole guitar neck which is mentally taxing.

The next step would be to put that understanding to test by playing to a metronome. As this exercise is predominantly a scale practice, try to play the note as the beat happens. If you are unsure about what that means, check out this post on beat placement.

Practising against a dictated rhythm is beneficial as it is similar to playing the scale over a song. It trains the muscle memory to respond well.

That’s it for this post and I hope it is useful to you. Thanks for reading till the end. In the upcoming posts, I will share more about the minor pentatonic scale.

Until then, have fun practising.