Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 6

I am Greg Studley, and this is Lesson 6 of Improvising With Knowledge on Ultimate Guitar. These lessons are designed to get you accustomed to yet another pentatonic scale shape, which can be used as a major pentatonic scale or minor pentatonic scale when improvising.

Here’s what we’ve covered in the previous lessons:

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 1 focused on the Minor Pentatonic Scale Shape E1, notes across the E-string, moving the Min Pent E1 shape across the neck, and soloing over a minor chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 2 focused on the Major Pentatonic Scale Shape E4, understanding flats and sharps, moving the Maj Pent E4 shape around the circle of fifths, and soloing over a major chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 3 focused on alternate picking eighth notes to increase your speed, and incorporating rhythmic and melodic motifs into your improvised solos.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 4 focused on learning how to solo over a major chord progression or a minor chord progression by FOLLOWING the chords and using different scales for each chord, rather than just using a single scale throughout.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 5 focused on soloing over a chord progression containing both major and minor chords by FOLLOWING the chords and changing the pentatonic scale as the chord changes. It involves more thought, but produces excellent results.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 6

So far, I have focused on using 1 major/minor pentatonic scale shape for soloing, and moving that shape around the neck to solo over a set of chords. As you may have noticed, this often involves making quick jumps from one position of the neck to another. By incorporating more pentatonic scale shapes, this problem is eliminated. The more shapes you have, the less you have to move your hand.

The next pentatonic scale shape has its low root located on the A-string. So, you first need to be confident with knowing the locations of all notes across the A-string to properly place the scale. If you are unfamiliar with these notes, I recommend first knowing where all of the natural notes are, then including all of the notes that are flat and sharp. The video below has a few exercises that will show you exactly how to do this.

Once you understand the note sequence across the A-string, you should begin exploring the new pentatonic shape. I have it notated here as both a major and minor shape. The major shape is called Major Pentatonic A4 (“A” because the low root is on the A string and “4” because it is played with the 4th finger). The minor shape is called Minor Pentatonic A1 (“A” because the low root is on the A string and “1” because it is played with the 1st finger). Remember, every pentatonic scale shape can be both major and minor, all depending on where the root(s) are located.

For both shapes, the roots are notated as “R.” All other notes are “O.”

Maj Pent A4


Min Pent A1


These new scale shapes can be absorbed in a number of ways, but I suggest the following methods (both shown in the video):

1) Play the major/minor pentatonic scale up the neck, only placing it at the natural notes. For Maj Pent A4, you should place it at C, then D, then E, then F, etc. For Min Pent A1, you should place it at Am, then Bm, then Cm, then Dm, etc. Alternate starting each scale from a low root or a high root for even better understanding.

2) Play the major/minor pentatonic scale around the entire circle of fifths, which will force you to acknowledge all possible notes across the A-string, including those that are flat and sharp. Alternate starting each scale from a low root or a high root for even better understanding.

Use this lesson as part of your regular practice and get very comfortable with this new scale shape. Why? Because the next Improvising With Knowledge lesson will be about improvising with 2 pentatonic shapes. PLAY WITH KNOWLEDGE!

Use the following video to practice all of the different exercises listed above, with scrolling TAB so you can play along.

About the Author:
By Greg Studley,  author of “A Guitarist’s Guide to Improvising With Knowledge,” “Speed, Accuracy & Technique for Guitar,” and “Essentials of Rhythm Guitar.” You can also download PDF versions of the exercises and play with free jam tracks at