There are 5 basic “shapes” of the pentatonic major scale on the guitar. They are C, A, G, E, and D. The shapes appear in the guitar’s open position. To play scales in other key signatures we must move one of the basic scale shapes up the fretboard similar to creating a barre chord.
I tend to call these shapes “the basic scale shapes/patterns”, but keep in mind that they are the same thing as the pentatonic scales and only have to add a 3rd and 6th scale step to make it the major scale. It’s not as technical as it sounds. I promise that it will make much more sense to you as you progress through these lessons.
How Do I Use It?
You can use this scale anytime you’re playing a song in the key of C major. A song in C major may have G chords, F chords, D minor chords, or other chords, but this scale shape will sound good over them all if the song is truly in the key of C. This method is commonly used for leads or solos.
If the song you are playing is in a different key you can still play from this scale shape over any C major chord that may appear in the song. With this method, you can “dress” up chord progressions by creating fills around the chords as in the examples below.
You can play this scale shape in any key by moving the pattern up the guitar’s fretboard, but we’ll get into that a little later…
The C Scale Shape
Here is the C scale shape:
See how the open C chord pattern fits right in (take special note of the root note “R”).
The scale shape is on the left and the open C chord is on the right. Can you see how the scale shape and chord shape fit hand-in-hand?
The chord shape has 3 different notes whereas the scale shape has 5 different notes. You may count more notes in the patterns, but we’re really just repeating some of the same notes over and over at different octaves.
Putting It Into Practice
To practice: play the open C chord and then play the scale pattern or any other way you want to play it. Practice it over and over until you’ve got it memorized.
Here are a few licks I put together using the open C chord with it’s scale shape. Notice how everything seems to gravitate to the C chord, or at least the root note?
Now that you’ve seen my examples, see if you can come up with your own! This will help you to solidify the pattern in your mind