Pentatonic Scales explained…

So I leaned the minor pentatonic boxes on Justin’s site 1-5. It seems the root note for all of the places he started was A natural for every shape.

My questions are:

Each box has a CAGED SHAPE X over the top of it. What is it about the box that relates to the caged note?

How would you now use these shapes for improv? How do you find corresponding backing tracks?

Hey Shaun,

This is how I see it.
Each ‘box’ shape contains the corresponding chord for that shape, depending on the root note position. The root note is the important thing.

And because, the minor pentatonic will always contain a R-b3-5 interval structure, you’ll always be able to build this root minor chord, triad etc inside each minor pentatonic pattern. Its just a logical extension.
So for Am pentatonic for example, you can build 5 Am chords across the fretboard where the Am patterns are.

Similar with the major pentatonic, you can always build the R-3-5 major root chords inside the 5 shapes.
( Compare this to the full major/ minor scale where you can build all 7 triads ‘inside’ the scale. The 2 'missing notes from the pentatonics means you can’t really do this).

The key thing I believe are the root notes. And remember there is more than 1 in each shape.

The benefit with improv is that you can eventually see the chord ( ie the chord tones), and the surrounding scale together as one, enabling you to better target those chord tones as the chords change, and two, use the surrounding notes to provide tension, resolution, movement etc between the chords… You mostly wont utilise full chord shapes in improv, just pieces here and there, as you build a melody.
As you get into it more, you’ll likely find yourself playing more laterally, as you connect these boxes together across the fretboard in different ways.

Cheers, Shane


I’ll be back.

Bedtime now, in fact beyond it. :slight_smile:

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The pentatonic boxes and the CAGED shape are basically the same.

The pentatonic scales have (as the name suggests) 5 notes, whilst the full diatonic scales have 7 notes. The pentatonic scales are the 7 note scales with 2 notes missing. Here are the E-shaped major pentatonic (normally called “box 1” or “pattern 1”) and full major scales and, for completeness, the E-shape barre chord diagrams:

Observe that the notes in the pentatonic scale are all in the major scale. The red dots in the major scale diagram show the notes which are missing from the major pentatonic. There are two notes in each full octave scale. There’s 4 red notes in the middle diagram because the scale pattern covers two octaves.

As I said, this is an E-shape pattern. This corresponds to the E in CAGED.

For each of the other shapes, there are corresponding diagrams.

All the CAGED patterns are movable so you can play them on any root note. Justin shows the pentatonic scales with an A root note in those lessons, but you can move them to any root note you like.

Also, in the lessons you linked, Justin is describing the minor pentatonic and I am describing the major pentatonic, scale and chords. I didn’t use the minor versions in my description because it’s a little more difficult to explain, and you are more likely to be familiar with major chords, but it applies the same to minor keys.

There is a very strong relationship between major and minor in music as you will eventually discover, but that’s a whole different topic. As a bit of foreshadowing, the notes in minor pentatonic box 2 are the same as major pentatonic box 1 (the diagram above). For reference, here’s Justin’s lesson on Major pentatonics:

You need to understand the relationship between chords, and keys and scales. If you are following the Beginners course, Justin has a lesson on this at Grade 3:

In a nutshell, if you know the key and which scale to use, you can play notes within that scale and it will sound good. And knowing the CAGED shapes for the scales you are playing make it relatively easy to switch between major and pentatonic scales, and also arpeggios (which, basically, are chord tones).




At this risk of confusing you (I hope not) this is the pentatonic minor equivalent:

This is using pentatonic minor position 1 against the “Aeolian mode” scale, which is the natural minor scale, and showing the E-shape minor barre chord.




Jeez, Keith, I wish I could pick up half of what you put down :scream: :rofl: :+1:

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Alarm bells are ringing for me here Shaun.
You’ve been playing a shade over six months and you have moved to learning five scale patterns without knowing how to use them.
As I mentioned in your learning log, unless you can use one scale pattern, learning the others is taking steps too far into areas where things becoming overwhelming, ultimately leading to frustration.

Focus only on pattern 1.
It is called the E shape pattern also for reasons @majik explained above.
But don’t worry about that.
E is the E from CAGED.
It has nothing to do with the E string.

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Rob, you seem to have a misunderstanding going here.

CAGED letters do not refer to the guitar strings at all.
There is no C string on a guitar anyway.
CAGED refers to the shapes of the open position major chords:
C major
A major
G major
E major
D major

The first scale pattern learned is, by convention, the E shape (pattern 1).
So called because within its pattern all six notes of an E-shape chord can be located. See the post by @Majik


That’s not what I meant at all

Tbh I think I’m done with helping people on this site.

@RobDickinson I understood what you meant and it makes perfect sense.
If your root is on the E string and your scale is forward of the root it would be an E shaped scale
Same Root same string but the scale is being the Root then it would be a G shaped scale.
Same goes for the A string with the A ans C shaped scales.
The root on the D string scale forward is D shape if the root is in the middle of the pattern its and E shape.

I don’t mean to take sides, but could you explain what you did mean? Because I couldn’t get my head around your explanation.

Nah I’m. Done

Throwing the toys out of the cot?


I have reread your post and owe an apology.
My once only reading caused me to misunderstand you.

I see your explanation in a similar style to the way Justin explains overlapping CAGED shapes with a shared root note in the Capo For Two lesson with one pattern behind and one in front.

I should have read more carefully and not written a post with a tone that probably struck you as dismissive.

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Thanks Richard, I could have been clearer!

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For what it’s worth, the explanation on this video of how to move the shapes really answered alot of my questions very clearly:


I liked your explanation Shaun. It helps me visualize where I’m aiming and how to think about absorbing the theory into learning the mechanics.

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