Major and relative minor pentatonic scales differences

I’m just starting to learn the major and minor pentatonic scales and have a question regarding the relationship between the major and minor. I understand that Am is the relative minor to the C major pentatonic scale. So what differentiates the Am from the C? I’ve heard that it’s the tonic note, if the tonic is A then it’s the Am pentatonic scale, if it’s the C, then it’s the C major pentatonic scale. What exactly does that mean?

If I start on a specific note on the 6th string and play the correct pattern, am I playing the C or Am scale? How does the concept of a tonic note come into play? Does it only come into play once you start to improvise, and if so, how?

If someone is playing a 12 bar blues pattern is C, can I play either the C or Am pentatonic scale over it? It’s all the same notes. I’m sure I’m missing something here, I just don’t know what it is.

If you are playing a 12 bar blue in C the best scale to sound bluesy would be the C minor pentatonic. The whole blues sound revolves around the 3rd and flat3 tention.

But that does answer your question.
The tonic or tonal center is how your ear perceives how the notes sound together. I have to go to work so when I get there I’ll explain it better.

Hi Todd, a very warm welcome to the Community.
I’m wondering what learning path you have taken to reach the point where you are learning both simultaneously.
Have you learned from JustinGuitar and followed along the path of his beginners courses?
If yes, you will have been introduced to the minor pentatonic scale early on, plus one pattern of a major sclae too. But the major pentatonic comes much later.

Justin’s advice, emphasised, is that you should learn only one scale, and only one pattern of that scale, at a time.
He even made a video stressing how important he thinks this disciplined approach is.

If you are unsure how to use the minor pentatonic to play some simple blues improvisation then that is your start point. Set aside the major pentatonic for the time being.
If blues is your thing that is your best route.
If you want a fuller, more wide ranging learning path, I would suggest learning one pattern of the major scale and learning to use it in simple improvisation.

Here’s a watered down answer with out getting into a bunch of theory. Take a look at these to scales the top is the Major Pentatonic and and the bottom is the minor Pentatonic. The numbers represent the intervals of the scale to scales. You will notice that the Root note of the Major Pentatonic is the b3 of the minor Pentatonic. So using you example of playing a Blues in the key of C you’ll notice if you play the Major Pentatonic in C you won’t get that clash of the 3rds. If you play the minor Pentatonic in Am you won’t get that clash of 3rds either because the b3 of Am is the root of C Major.

If you take the bottom pattern and play the Root(1) on the note C you will be playing the minor Pentatonic in C and get that bluesy sound. So the biggest difference between the two is how you ear hears the note over a piece of music.