Major Pentatonic Music (Guitar Lesson)

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David Isaacs

Major Pentatonic Music

Learn the C major pentatonic scale and put it to good use over a catchy tune! You'll be surprised how simple this is and how very musical you can be with just 5 notes arranged in a musically interesting way.

Taught by David Isaacs in Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs seriesLength: 8:38Difficulty: 2.0 of 5

In this lesson, we return to simple scales to play an old-time country style melody in the key of C. Our tune “Mountain Laurel” uses the C major pentatonic scale, which is derived from the C major scale you learned in lesson 10.

“Pentatonic” means exactly what you might suspect: a five-tone scale. A major scale has seven tones, eight if you count the octave (the return of the note name you started with…eight scale tones create an octave). In this case, our C major scale started on the 3rd fret of the 5th string and the notes are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. I should mention that while it’s not essential for you to know the note names, it’s very helpful and worth the effort it takes to learn them, at least on the first four or five frets. For now, we’re just looking at this specific set of 8 notes, which you’ll hear played at 00:16.

The major pentatonic uses just five of these seven notes: C-D-E-G-A (followed by the octave C). You’ll hear what this sounds like at 00:40, spelled out one note at a time. Download the PDF to follow along with our exercise, “Mountain Laurel”.

We have something new in the notation for this tune. When you look at the music, you’ll see what looks like a fraction at the very beginning: a 2 over a 4. This is the time signature or meter. “Mountain Laurel” is in two-four time or “in 2”, meaning that each cycle of beats is only two counts long. You can see this in the music and tab: the melody uses a combination of quarter notes (1, 2, 1, 2) and eighth notes (1 and 2 and 1 and 2 and). The tune starts with what we call a pickup or partial measure: the first two notes would be counted “2 and” and act as a setup for the note that falls on the next downbeat.

The rhythm shouldn’t be hard to follow, but it’s definitely worth your while to listen and follow along at least once without trying to play it. You’ll find that reading rhythms in written or printed music is actually pretty simply once you can see how the notes fit the beat. The measures or bars show the counts of two, and the notes simply follow the count (quarter notes) or appear in pairs where the second note falls between the counts (eighth notes). Of course, you should be relying on your ears as much as your eyes.

One other point worth mentioning: as our exercises get longer, you want to be aware of the form, or the way the sections are put together. This tune is in what we might call AABA form: we have a 16-bar melody (A), which is repeated (A again). A second 8-bar melody begins at bar 33 (B), and then the second half of A returns to bring it home. First part, repeat, second part, first part returns: AABA.

As always, play the melody slowly without the track first so your fingers can get comfortable finding the notes, doing your best to keep a steady beat. When you can play it through accurately at the slow tempo, add the backing track and pick away! Don’t forget, you can practice the tune in small segments as you work on building speed. You might focus on one section at a time, or even just a short phrase of a bar or two. Breaking things down into bite-size pieces is a very powerful and effective way to work, and really allows you to zero in on identifying and conquering each new challenge.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

hygeniehygenie replied on October 21st, 2018

As a new learner here for less than an hour on a trial basis, i have am somewhat discouraged by the site. This lesson stops for me at 31% (at the end of scene 2) and what ever i try, i cannot proceed any further. This creates a reluctance in me to spend actual money on a lesson site that does not function as expected. Otherwise i think the site is well laid out with LOTS of options. Just sayin'

kennymilton2kennymilton2 replied on November 10th, 2017

can we have the print out of of the hole strings of mountain lauret so we can take it down in shortpieces and build it up slowlay so we can see the open strings and the timming right thank you

CavanaughCavanaugh replied on July 9th, 2017

Two comments: Dave, in a prior lesson, said something about a tendency for beginners to get confused going down a scale. When you switch to a lower string, you want to use an open string. But if it is a scale, that cannot be. Just hard to make my fingers work. The other thing I find I it is hard to read the reverse print staff below the images of dave's guitar. (it is hard to tell a b from a c. Or a g from an a. ) Maybe it is just me.

DorinDorin replied on March 8th, 2017


jboothjbooth replied on July 11th, 2017

Could you please let us know specifically which issue you are encountering so we can help you out? Feel free to respond here or contact [email protected]

jboothjbooth replied on October 17th, 2016

Hemme has corrected the tab, you should be able to re-download it now.

icksterickster replied on October 12th, 2016

Yes, the PDF is missing something on the 3rd line.

jboothjbooth replied on October 17th, 2016

I have passed this comment on to Hemme, our resident musical notation expert so he can take a look at it. Thank you!

mcerionemcerione replied on March 6th, 2016

is it just me or when you play the pdf file against the backing track there is a line of music missing or a repeat sign some where?

RICHARDCROSSRICHARDCROSS replied on January 15th, 2016

at the start of every lesson i go back to picking ei - L/ 8. L/9. l/10 L/11. IS THIS OK OR SHOULD I MASTER ALL THE LESSONS FIRST . AND THEN GO ONTO THE NEXT ?

GregGPGregGP replied on October 31st, 2015

Again: I'd like so the whole pdf fit on the screen, so there'd be no need for scrolling when playing tab or notation.

Don.SDon.S replied on September 30th, 2015

Kind of struggling with the 2/4 timing, especially if I try to play it at the BPM in the sheets. As long as I can hear it before I play it I'm OK.

bobweir99bobweir99 replied on September 26th, 2015

Enter your comment here.

bobweir99bobweir99 replied on September 26th, 2015

Peggy don't be frustrated. The first song I ever learned how to strum was Bob Marley Three Little Birds. All down strums. Then I learned learned Beatles love me do with the dddud pattern. Then Brown Eyed girl dduudu. I learned from Justin guitar. check it out. free videos on youtube.

bobweir99bobweir99 replied on September 26th, 2015

Sound like Irish Song Sean South of Garryowen.

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied on September 17th, 2015

It's all about the groove baby!

LenMatthewsLenMatthews replied on August 29th, 2015

Great lesson.. really impressed myself by picking the tune up very quickly; testimony to the quality of teaching that's led to this point! Shame the PDF wasn't accurate though with a couple of bars missing!

peggygillmanpeggygillman replied on August 17th, 2015

I'm getting a little frustrated! I really want to learn a few simple chords and play a beginner tune while I sing along and we don't seem to be getting any closer to the day this will happen.

grburgessgrburgess replied on July 16th, 2015

There are a few moments that helped me with the Maj and Minor pentatonic scale. The first was seeing it in Gb on the piano, forever seeing it as 1,2,3,5,6 on the black keys, and the minor pentatonic being the same black keys starting on Eb. The second big moment for me was to see it as 2,2,3,2,3 as fret increments on a single string, or across some strings. Now I am reminded in this video that 3 of the 5 tones are already in the major scale, and I just need to add the 2 and 6 to get the complete pentatonic scale major. This sort of completes the picture for me.

Don.SDon.S replied on May 22nd, 2015

Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate the way you structure your progression into you Beginner Guitar series. Great job.

m0untainh1kerm0untainh1ker replied on May 6th, 2015

the pdf's and guitar pro is missing the 4th line

jboothjbooth replied on October 17th, 2016

I've passed this on to Hemme to correct. Thank you.

m0untainh1kerm0untainh1ker replied on May 6th, 2015

the 3rd line of the song

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A Taste of the Blues

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Lesson 16

Major Pentatonic Music

Learn the C major pentatonic scale and put it to good use over a catchy tune! You'll be surprised how simple this is and how very musical you can be with just 5 notes arranged in a musically interesting...

Length: 8:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 17

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Lesson 18

Chord Shapes & Arpeggios

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Lesson 19

Work Those Rhythms

Dave works you through eight different strumming variations, discusses how to feel the groove while keeping the rhythm, and shows you how to take a handful of examples and create any strum pattern you...

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Lesson 20

Complete C

Look at the C major scale once again. This time however, you'll get to complete the first position C major pattern. You'll play every note within reach of your first 4 frets. You'll also learn a catchy...

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Lesson 21

The Return to Chords

Work in the Am, Dm, and Em chords and play them in a melancholy, yet soothing example. You'll also get to work on your basic strumming.

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Lesson 22

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Lesson 23

Let's Major on A Minor

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Lesson 24

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Back to some chords now. In case you couldn't tell from the title, we'll be focusing on 7th chords for this lesson. You learned A7 a while back, and now you'll learn E7 and B7.

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Lesson 25

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Lesson 26

Moveable Chords

Chords that don't have any open strings in them AND chords whose open strings fit comfortably within the chord all called "moveable chords". Learn how to play a couple chords up the neck.

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Lesson 27

Moveable Pentatonic

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Lesson 28

Syncopated Strumming

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Lesson 29

And Now...Barre Chords!

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Advancing with Blues

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Lesson 36

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Here You Are

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About David Isaacs View Full Biography Nashville-based Dave Isaacs has made a name for himself as one of Music City's top guitar instructors, working with both professional and aspiring songwriters and artists at his Music Row teaching studio. He is also an instructor in the music department at Tennessee State University and is the coordinator and artistic director of the annual TSU Guitar Summit.

A seasoned performer as well, Dave has released eight independent CDs and gigs steadily as a solo artist, bandleader, and sideman. He continues to write, record, and perform as well as arranging and producing projects for other artists.

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