Visualizing Pentatonic Scales Pt.2

This lesson continues our study of pentatonic scales and how to see them across the neck.

You may feel that you need to work on your knowledge of major keys a little bit more if you can't find the exact placement of each individual tone in a key (ie. 4th, 5th etc.).

Don't worry about this, it comes just by working with it and doing your best to understand the system. You will notice very quickly (probably within a few weeks), that you feel very comfortable with all of the keys and each individual note's placement in them.

I am also going to do a series in the Advanced Guitar Section that shows how to visualize 3-notes per string Major Scales across the neck. I recommend you checking that out as well because visualizing 3-notes per string scales using this system is actually easier to do with major scales than with pentatonics, even though the scale forms themselves are a little harder to play. You will see what I mean if you study those lesson's as well.

Take your time with this method and let your mind absorb everything that is going on and just trust the process. Whatever you do, do not get frustrated!!

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Visualizing Pentatonic Scales Pt.2


  1. Hugh Sanderford on November 15, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Hi Carl,

    You’ve mentioned minor pentatonics and I wonder if you have a lesson dedicated to them. I play a good bit of blues and notice the minor scales work well with the old I IV V patterns. Are there any particular lessons I should look for to learn more about them? Also interested in learning more about modes.


    Hugh Sanderford
    Winston Salem, NC

    • Carl Brown on November 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

      Hey Hugh, thanks for watching my lessons. Glad to hear from someone in the triad area, I was born and raised in Greensboro and lived there until I was 25. In fact, I was just at Bowman Gray stadium this summer catching some races with my Dad.

      To answer your question about minor pentatonics you will see that most of my scale lessons revolve around the major pentatonic and major scales. The minor pentatonic is the exact same scale as the major pentatonic, it is just the relative minor of the major pentatonic scale.

      In my theory lesson on “Understanding Minor Scales” I talk about relating all minor scales to their relative major and then just visualizing them as major. The reason for this is to have consistency in how you visualize scales across the neck. If we had different patterns for all scale types we can play on the guitar things can get quite confusing. So instead what I choose to do is relate every scale back to its parent major scale when dealing with modes, and its relative major scale when dealing with minor pentatonic scales. That way, I only have to visualize one scale type no matter how many scales I am playing.

      Hope this makes since, in order to do this visualization method you just need a solid grasp of the music theory behind it. If you check out the music theory section of the Lesson Archives page you can read a lot of tutorials that explain this type of thinking. Then you can just watch the visualizing major scales, and modes lessons after that to apply that theory.

      Good Luck!! Carl 😀

  2. Padraic King on February 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Carl,
    I think you answered my questions already with the start of part 2!


  3. Ruffnek on March 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    There it is….didn’t see this before I commented on the last one 🙂

  4. Ruffnek on March 29, 2011 at 2:04 am

    This is exactly what I need to be learning at this point. Can you break it down a little more or even put a written lesson up about this. This is awesome.

  5. Kyle Anderson on July 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Awesome info, Thanks!

  6. Spin on November 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Great method!

  7. Yuriy on November 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Hallo, Carl. Thank you so much for your lessons. They are very very helpful.
    I got a question on how do you count the notes in your head. For example you want to find the 6th note of G major. Do you spell the letters in your head and then apply it to guitar or do you visualize the guitar fret board and that gives you the answer?


    • Carl Brown on November 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      Hey Yuriy, GREAT QUESTION! What I actually did first was to memorize the sharps or flats of all keys. Then I tend to use intervals to find the individual notes within a key quickly without having to count up from the root. Just study your 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths and 7ths really well and you will instantly be able to find the proper interval that you need. For instance, if I am playing in A major and find myself in the F region of the fretboard I know instantly that F is the 6th of A and because I know every sharp and flat within a key I know to make it an F#.

      It may sound like a lot of work but it really does become automatic and very easy to figure almost instantly.

      Hope this helps!! Carl.

  8. Ian Parker on July 13, 2012 at 7:16 am

    I think that these lessons are good and a new way to think about things. I do think that learning where the root note is globally on the fretboard and then relatively within each modal shape is a pretty great way to know what you are doing when having to modulate quickly and still stay within a focused area though. Maybe make that a part 3 to this series. It really works well for me. You could also talk intervals relative to root note as well as the min3/maj6 – maj3/min6 relationships.

    Thanks 🙂

  9. mr x on May 11, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Nice thanks very help full !!

  10. Dan on July 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Carl, thanks as always for your great methods! Would you recommend we learn the 3-notes per string scale patterns first or the Pentatonic? While they are ultimately the same with only a few additional notes, the Pentatonic patterns come across to me so much more clear, especially when interlocking the patterns across the fretboard left and right (left left or right side pattern matches exactly with adjacent pattern!). However, the 3-note patterns are so different and do not interlock as clearly left and right, so it is like having to learn 7 new patterns! Maybe some visual indicators on the PDFs (where to anchor or root notes) would help? I have seen this on other scale visuals, but it might “marry you to a key”!?
    Anyway, I hope this makes sense! I am hanging in there, but really struggling to understand the order I should memorize scales – 3-note full scales or Pentatonic first!?

    Thanks again and regards,

    • Carl Brown on July 14, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Hey Dan, hang in there!

      The 3 notes per string method is meant to get you away from the root note method so I think putting them in there would defeat the purpose. You need to know your major keys very well. After that it is just about visualizing the notes of that key on one string. 🙂

      It is easier to memorize the pentatonic forms I agree. However, the theory behind placing them along the 6th string visualization points can be a little confusing for people since a couple of the notes in the key are skipped. But, f you feel confident in the music theory side of things and want to start with the more simple scale forms that will be fine.


  11. george kerr on June 30, 2016 at 3:41 am

    I truly am glad to have found your site, its insightful and informative. I do have a question however. I have learned the pentatonic shapes and I think I understand the method to learn scale association with scale degrees but if you are playing in the f area of the neck what would you do if playing around the circle of 5ths in the key of e and Bb which I think are the 7th scale tone and 4th scale tone of the major pentatonic and thus are not included in those scales and I don’t know what to do then. Maybe I am not doing the method right or something? The c would result in the pentatonic pattern built from the 5th of the f scale the d the 6th etc. I hope ????

    • Carl Brown on July 3, 2016 at 2:37 pm

      Hey George, it would depend on the key you are in.

      For C major you won’t play anything starting from the F or B region since those notes don’t exist in the pentatonic scale, just as you stated.

      That is also why I generally say that visualizing and understanding complete major scales is generally easier since even though you are having to deal with 7 notes, you don’t have to leave any out which can get confusing.

      Does that make sense?

      Check out the new rock or blues improvisation courses, they both start out by explaining that pretty thoroughly. 🙂


  12. george kerr on July 3, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    You truly are a wonder cause u are inspiring me to learn again after years of being stuck in a rut. I am having a hard time learning the 3 not/string patterns but will get it eventually. To me seeing the pents as 1 big scale not 5 seperate patterns is best. I guess I am confused by when u play a 12 bar blues 1-4-5 progression how do you deal with the 4 chord with maj p. I will get to khow by experience and your lessons so thank you. For now my best guess would be to play the root scale for the 4

  13. Daniel Schram on July 10, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Awesome! You have a great way of simplifying this so that it is easy to understand and apply. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us

  14. Collin Skyers on November 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Hi there, thanks for all your lessons.

    I’m really struggling to figure out how to use this method for minor pentatonics. Can someone help please ?


    • Carl Brown on November 20, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Hey Collin, the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic are the exact same scale forms. Do you know you relative minor keys?

  15. Collin Skyers on November 20, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Aagh – my comment got lost – I’ll try again.

    Hi Carl, thanks for your reply. Yes, I know the relative minors. Maybe my problem is really a naming issue – I’m not sure. For example with majors you might say “shape built from the second” but of course there is no second in the minor, ditto the sixth. If I use the method you’ve kindly demonstrated I think I would have to work something out for major then transpose it to minor. Maybe I’m overthinking things.

    If you have the time, do you think you could do a demonstration for the minors ?

    Kind regards

  16. Chris on January 19, 2021 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Carl,
    I am getting a bit confused when I see how people label the shapes/forms of the Pentatonic scale differently. You label them as the Root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th Shapes and I almost never see that elsewhere. Instead, others label them as the G-form, E-form, D-form, C-form and A-form and almost exclusively arrange them in that order. So the Root shape is the E-form in their structure. The 2nd is the D-form and so on. I am just not sure how or why they are labeled like that and its sort of confusing me when I trying to learn the difference between the Minor and Major Pentatonic scales. Thank you.

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