Discuss the Mandolin lesson: Introduction to Pentatonic Scales



I have one rule about teaching theory. You have to be able to use it, and this you can use. It’s a huge lesson but I’ll introduce you to pentatonic scales, how to play open & closed positions, transpose, speed exercise, then a challenge on beginning to use them in your playing.


Oh nice! This will be the perfect first lesson when I get that Eastman in.

Question. I discovered by accident once that you can shift down a minor pentatonic scale on guitar and it works in the major scale. I learned later that that’s apparently common knowledge. Is there anything cool like that on mandolin?


Yep, the rules will work the same.


Perfect! Not sure I’ve ever been more excited to dive into a lesson! As I progress in my mandolin playing and begin playing with others more and more, I am learning that improvisation is so important. I’m already using your advice on “Charting Out a Break” I’ve taken a couple of songs and applied the “Bag-O-Licks” into the breaks and am having more fun than ever.
Thanks for making this easier to understand and fun Ben!


I just printed out the pentatonic scales last week to pluck around on. Perfect timing for me. :smile:


I have 2 lessons yet I can unlock on my free membership. Can I use one of those for this lesson? It won’t let me acess it.

Thank you!


Yes, you can use an unlock for this lesson. Just click the “unlock lesson” button beneath the video player. Enjoy!


So glad to see this lesson. I had recently found a few pentatonic lessons on Youtube and I have been practicing them but I typically find your lessons much more helpful and your explanations are very good. I have been practicing by listening to a song and finding the key and then trying to jam using the pentatonic.


I have an Eastman Mandocaster that just arrived this afternoon. Can’t wait to get home and play it!


Thanks for explaining the Pentatonic Scale. Even though I’m not a mandolin player, I was eager to watch this because I had tons of questions concerning the Pentatonic Scale. This answered some of my questions, but I still have a few,

  1. Whats wrong with the 4th and 7th tones that cause them to be excluded?
  2. Can you truly play ANY combination of notes from the Pentatonic Scale over any of the 7 tonic chords in a particular key and it sound good?
  3. This question really doesn’t relate to this lesson…What makes a lick work over a particular chord, are there rules that govern this? I. E. to play a lick over a G chord does the lick need to start or end on a G? I’m not talking about using the Pentatonic scale here, but just the regular major scale.
    Anyone’s answers are appreciated.

Brandon C.


Nothing really wrong with them and they will work very often. Remember that we don’t want to exclude them from our playing, but there are times when they will just sound out of place. In one of my coming lessons we will begin switching pentatonic scales as the chords change to begin including other notes.

YES! It’s true.

I hate to be wishy washy, but the definition of “work” is going to vary depending on the ear and style of music. What works in jazz will sound like it’s not working in other styles, and so on. However, a lick does not have to start, end, or even include the note of the chord it is played over. As an example, try playing through the G major pentatonic over a G chord, but leave out the G notes in the scale. Make up a lick with the notes A, B, D, and E. It will sound great! However, you will have more difficulty making it sound like you’re finished, if that makes sense.


I’m still a little confused on how you go about picking which notes to play over a particular chord. Pretend a song has a chord progression of G - C - D and I want to play straight eighth note licks over each chord using the major scale. Would I simply try to play notes that are closest to the chord? Example for a G chord: Use notes E F# G A B
Example for a C chord: Use notes A B C D E
Example for a D chord B C D E F#
I know that you can play any note as long as it sound good, but is this a logical starting point? I’m sorry that I getting away from the Pentatonic discussion.


It really depends on the song. I may be told I’m wrong here, but I think in general, if the song is just straight major chords, say in G, then you play the G scale when in G, the C scale when in C, and the D scale when in D.

But that’s the beauty of playing the pentatonic scale. You can lay down the same notes over the entire song no matter which key you’re in at the moment and it sounds right.


Thanks Mark that was my next question. I was unsure if you can change between major scales when the chords change. So when it changes to a C you would play F instead of F#, and when it changes to D you would play C# instead of C? I guess maybe that’s why so many people stick to the pentatonic.


You got it. To take it even 1 step further, that’s why playing G7 is a perfect transition chord to C. The F in the G7 chord isn’t part of the G major scale, but it IS the 4th note in the C scale, so you’re literally walking down from 5 (G note and G chord) to 4 (F note of the G7 chord) to 3 (the E note of the C chord C-E-G.)

Sounds like you have your head wrapped around it better than you think. :wink:


Mark, the light bulb just came on! Thanks so much.


One other thing that I just realized is that since the Pentatonic scale excludes the 4th and 7th tones you dont have to worry about playing the F in lieu of F# when playing over a C chord or playing a C# in lieu of a C when playing over the D chord.


Yep, that’s why the major 7th tone (F# in G) is not included in the pentatonic.


It’s absolutely amazing that people were smart enough to figure all this out to begin with. My theory continues to be proven that: The smartest people who ever lived were Adam and Eve, and we have been getting dumber ever since . :grinning:


Awesome! Seems like you get the same excitement out of putting the puzzle pieces together as I do. Theory is so much fun. :slight_smile: