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I – IV – V Pentatonics

The Concept

A pentatonic scale will work off the I, IV, and V scale degree of any given key. If you’re in a major key, major pentatonic will work; if you’re in a minor key, then minor. Three scales, one key. All the notes will be diatonic. You can switch scales anytime—every note remains within the key. Given that we tend to be visually stimulated by patterns as guitarists, changing patterns on the fly can help drive engagement and creativity. You may Venmo me now.

Major Example

Key: C major

C is the I chord, F is the IV, and G is the V. 

Use: C pent, F pent, G pent. 

Minor Example

Key: A minor

Am is the i, Dm is the iv, and Em is the v. 

Use: Am pent, Dm pent, Em pent


Method #1: Position shift the same scale pattern to the I, IV, and V positions.

Method #2: Use adjacent I, IV, V scale patterns of choice. 

Method #2 is understandably more difficult, but gives better results over time. If you’re comfortable with the traditional extended pentatonic scale, it can provide some good opportunities for overlapping when using method #1. You could combine methods as well by shifting the same pattern around the neck to find more adjacent patterns you prefer.

Make sense? If you’re interested in getting deeper into this, let me know.

Further Study

  • What scale tones do the major and minor pentatonic scales have? Which tones do they share and which are different?
  • What scale tones do major and minor scales have? Which tones do they share and which are different?  
  • Which notes are included in major and minor scales that were removed from their respective pentatonic counterparts? 
  • What scale tones do the I, IV, V pentatonics have in relation to the key?

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