The E Minor Pentatonic Scale Guitar: The Most Understandable Guide
Are you curious about the E minor pentatonic scale? It’s actually one of the most known scales in music to this and day and is used by many bands such as Metallica, deep purple, black sabbath, and more. It is used quite heavily for lead guitar, especially metal and blues guitar.
This is what the E minor pentatonic scale looks like, it starts on the 12th fret of the E string.
If you are unsure of how to read these chord charts, it is very simple and you don’t have to read a separate article on it. Look at the E minor pentatonic scale above, there are numbers on each fret and these numbers correspond to your fingers like this:
Index Finger (1)
Middle Finger (2)
Ring Finger (3)
You just place your fingers on the fretboard according to the numbers. It’s that simple!
After reading this article on the E minor pentatonic scale you will be able to do the following or learn the following:
- Play at least a couple of different licks with this scale.
- Expand your guitar sound, by learning new licks.
- Know what situations you can use the E minor scale in,
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The second most known position of the E minor pentatonic scale
This version of the scale, is the second most known way to play it and it is also the second most popular way to play it. You will a lot of blues players incorporating this scale in their soloing. In fact, you will find it hard to find any guitarist who doesn’t use this scale when soloing in the key of E minor.
This is also known as the “open shape” and is something that many guitarists struggle to get out of when trying to learn to improvise. This picture below shows how to play the E minor pentatonic scale in an open string fashion. It sounds very bluesy / country sounding and is also heavily used.
As promised before I’ll show you a few cool phrases that you can use in this guitar scale.
If you are unsure what a phrase is, it’s simply a short section of music.
Here is a cool video on cool E minor pentatonic licks that you can play. Once you start playing them, you might instantly recognize the sound because it’s so often used by other guitar players.
As you can see in the video, the scale in the first demonstration is in the open position. There is no right or wrong way to play the scale, you just need to decide what sound you want to come out of your guitar. Playing the E minor pentatonic scale in an open-string fashion can be quite tricky because it won’t work in every scenario.
When improvising you need to hit the right notes, and even though an open note is the same as the note you press on the fretboard just another octave, it can feel trickier to know if it will sound good or not.
Like mentioned, there is no wrong way to play this scale but there is the most logical way to play it. One common thing that guitar players like to do on this scale is to use their 4th finger instead of their ring finger when playing.
There is nothing wrong with this, but if you have a pinky you may as well utilize it to it’s fullest potential. It might not be as strong as your other fingers but over time you can train it to be. If you want to increase the strength of your pinky and rapidly, then I must recommend this tool that we sell here at TheMusicGig.
Something Very Handy to Know
There are two very similar scales in music, and these scales are the one we are teaching in this lesson and the E minor scale without the “pentatonic”. The only different is that the E minor pentatonic scale has two notes less than just the normal E minor scale.
If you are curious and you already know what “E minor” means and want to know pentatonic means, it simply means five notes.
Quick Question: Do you want to learn other scales that will make you sound MILES better on guitar and really expand your sound? Check out our free lesson here which talks about other unique guitar scales, such as the Hirajoshi scale:
Different variations of the E minor pentatonic scale
So far, the basics have been covered of the E minor pentatonic scale now it’s time to look at some more complicated stuff that will make you a better guitarist. Don’t worry as this will broken down and it will be as easy as learning the basic stuff.
Check out these charts to see different variations of the scale, so you can get an idea on where to play it. Remember that you don’t have to stick to one position. You can move around the entire fretboard but this will take some practice. You will find that staying in one position quite boring.
As you can see in this illustration you can play this guitar scale in a number of different positions. You can play from the 12th fret normally, or you could start from the 7th fret of the ‘A’ string. Changing up the position is great; it will give you the following benefits:
- Learn to move around the fretboard and not be confined to one space
- Develop new ideas from different positions
- Help you connect the fretboard so you can join it up with other scales making you more likely to hit the correct notes (or known as notes within the scale). There are no “wrong” notes in music, but wrong notes are referred to as notes out of the guitar scale. If you play a note that is not in the E minor pentatonic scale for example it will be seen as a “wrong note”, but wrong notes can really make you stand out and make you sound unique.
Look at players like Chris Poland as an example.
Another version of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale
This diagram that you see below is quite an interesting one. Instead of going in a box shape it goes as a staircase shape. This is very popular with shredding guitar players, they will either shred up or down or zig-zag it slightly. This is also very common in arpeggios.
The starting note of this version is on the 7th fret of the ‘A’ string and then it works down (actually up because we are moving higher up in pitch). You might have thought that the 5th fret of the ‘E’ string is the start point but if you count with your fingers you will notice that is an ‘A’ note.
As mentioned previously, the same finger positions apply for this pattern. Incase you forgot here are is the guide:
Index Finger (1)
Middle Finger (2)
Ring Finger (3)
Since this is a scale chart, and there are no numbers to illustrate which finger goes where, but just think about it logically. From the 5th fret to the 7th fret there is one gap in-between so you can safely say to yourself, “I will start with my index finger, then use my ring finger for the 7th fret since if needed I can use my middle finger for the 6th fret”.
One bonus thing that I will mention is that you will see guitar players who use their ring finger to bend instead of their pinky. This is fine but using your pinky is a better idea so you can build up the strength to bend.
E Minor Pentatonic Scale – In Yet Another Position
This next variation is similar to the one mentioned above and can be used the same way. It has a similar staircase pattern and it’s also very simple to play. As always start with your index finger and now since there are 2 frets in-between 7 and 10, use your pinky to play the 10th fret.
If you were wondering where the starting note is, it is on the same fret as the previous example.
If you want to make your life easier by knowing where to find your frets without having to count them all the time then check out this fretboard sticker that we sell here at - TheMusicGig
You no longer have to worry about where the right note is you can just play it instantly.
If you also wanted to know how to find the fretboard notes, with an empty fretboard; I created an easy-to-follow guide that will show you the simplest tricks and tips to help you remember the fretboard notes. Check it out here:
The E Minor Pentatonic Scale: The 5th Variation
The next idea that will see might be slightly harder for you. The reason being is that the pinky is going to be involved. Don’t worry though as you can just take it slow. One additional tip that I will give you is to practice on an acoustic guitar with heavy gauge strings.
Why? You might ask. Well, an acoustic guitar is harder to play on than an electric guitar and you will build up the strength in your fingers a lot faster on an acoustic, making it effortless to play electric.
Anyways, here is the next pattern. Like a staircase and you will be using your index finger and your pinky finger all the way through.
Are you getting information overload?
Just know that it is not a mandatory requirement to know every single variation it just will give you different ideas. The more you know though, the better you will get. The best rule is to focus on ONE thing at a time, and don’t move onto another thing until you are comfortable with that one concept.
That is one big mistake that guitar players make (information overload) With so many resources on the internet and ideas you will feel all over the place. Focusing on one thing will give you more clarity and won’t stress you out as much.
Don’t be robotic! I’m sure you have heard other guitar players say, “he/she plays with no emotion” or “he just plays up and down the neck one-thousand-miles an hour” or “it doesn’t sound like music, it just sounds like a scale pattern going up and down”. It is VERY easy to get stuck playing up and down the neck, you just need to make sure it sounds like music.
This rule is the same if you want to learn a guitar lick. If you learn 20 different licks you won’t memorize them and you be wondering, “how do I use all these licks, how do I apply them all?”. It’s easier to stick to one and even make motifs out of them.
In case you’re curious, as a motif is just a variation of the original lick that you learned. By making new variations you are making your guitar playing sound different.
Sometimes playing in a scale-like format can be good if you want to create really fast guitar licks. Just try to make whatever it is you're playing to sound like music.
When can you use the E minor pentatonic scale?
If you were wondering what are the most appropriate scenarios to utilize this guitar scale, then G Major would be a good start. The G major scale is the relative major of E minor. If you are not sure what a relative scale is, this is the definition: “Relative scales are scales that share the same set of notes”
The notes of the G major guitar scale are the same as those in the E minor scale. If you are interested in doing improvisation with this scale then I highly recommend that you get a backing track in the key of E minor and just start noodling around with it and get comfortable with it.
The Essentials of Guitar Keys
If you want to become a great improviser, it is critical to know what musical key you are playing in. If you have no idea what key you are playing in then you will have no idea what you’re playing.
What is a key in music?
Simply put, a key in music is a group of notes that makes a certain piece of sound. That would be the simplest way to put it. If you say you are in the key of E minor, then it’s those certain notes in E minor that gives it that distinct sound. The same goes for any other key in music.
If you want to know what the current key of the tune you are listening to is in, then you just need to know what the first chord is. If you play the E minor chord and then play the F# then the G note, you will notice once you come back to the E chord it will sound like “home”. The first chord is also known as the home chord.
Another thing you can do is to play a chord that isn’t within the key then play the home chord, it will give you a “resolving” sound. By ear, you will be able to recognize what the home chord is.
In order to become a great musician and improviser, knowing the key that you’re in isn’t enough. The two most important things are to have an arsenal of guitar licks that you draw from and the other is to hit the right notes at the right time.
Hitting what is known as “chord tones” is what will make you sound like you know what you’re doing.
What the heck is a chord tone?
It is simply, certain notes within the chord but not any note. For example, the C major chord is created from 3 notes – C, E, G – they are called the chord tones. They are also referred to as the 1st, 3rd, and the 5th. You can use any of these chord tones and you will sound good every time.
In order to hit those notes every time, you need to know where they are. It can take YEARS of practice to know where all the notes on the guitar fretboard are, so to save the hassle TheMusicGig offers an easy solution to that. Here below is a fretboard sticker that you can purchase and when the next chord comes up in a backing track, you will know EXACTLY what note to hit.
The most popular method is to hit the root note, or known as the 1st note of the chord. If you are playing an ‘A’ major chord for example then you simply play the ‘A’ note.
The formula is the exact same for every single chord. For example:
The root of A minor– Root is the ‘a’ note
Root of B major – Root is the ‘b’ note
Root of C minor – Root is the ‘c’ note
Root of D# Major – Root is the ‘d’ note
One popular trick that you can do as a beginner when learning to improvise is to only target the root notes from the low E string. Most of you probably know all the frets from the 1st fret of the low E string to the 12th fret. To make things simple, it’s a good idea to just stick to the root note then, later on, moving to the 5ths and 3rds of each chord.
Don’t forget to learn guitar phrases!
The biggest factor when it comes to sounding like a good guitar player, it to have licks as I mentioned before. A lick and a phrase are the same things, just a short section of music. You will find that you constantly get bored, even after you learn a new lick. The new reason is the same as the old reason. You have played it a million times!
As mentioned, making hundreds of different variations of those licks can eliminate the issue of boredom, but more importantly repetitiveness. I’d recommend to start learning licks that you like from other guitar players.
If you listen to a lot of Metallica and you have learned a lot of Metallica solo’s for example, would you have noticed that you can play a lot of E minor pentatonic type of licks. Here is a video of Marty Friedman playing some improvisational stuff. What I did is I took sections of this video that I liked, and learned the licks and made variations of them.
There are some licks that won’t work in certain scenarios, so you either have to play another lick or adjust that lick to the current situation. If for example you learned a fast lick but the song is slow, you will have to slow down that lick and possibly change it to suit the song.
So that’s it for the E minor pentatonic scale. Hopefully, this guide has helped you. As you can see there are a plethora of different things that you can learn in music. Don’t be alarmed though, you only need to learn what you want to learn. You don’t need to know every scale position or every arpeggio but knowledge is power.