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.


DorinDorin replied on March 8th, 2017

WHY DOES THE PROGRAM NOT WORK FOR DAVE ISSACS BUT WORK WELL FOR THE OTHERS? FRUSTRATING!!!

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

Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Whether you've never played before, or your coming back to guitar after brief startup attempt, you'll find everything you need to get going in this series. David uses real musical examples to teach even the most basic concepts and techniques.



Lesson 1

The Series Introduction

Don't get stuck learning chords, scales and theory with nowhere to apply the things you work on. Take the "David Isaacs" approach and learn the guitar by using real music. You'll be playing along with...

Length: 2:32 Difficulty: 0.5 FREE
Lesson 2

Strings & Things

Tune up, learn your way around your guitar, and explore a simple, musical picking exercise to help you learn the string names. You'll be playing right out of the gate!

Length: 22:20 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Hands on the Fretboard

Learn hand position, posture and see how to set up your playing for success when it comes to your fret hand. Dave goes in depth with his discussion and demonstration of hand mechanics. Don't miss this...

Length: 16:10 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

Your First Song!

Learn the E7 minor and Am chords and then immediately put them to use with a simple song. Play along to the provided backing track and feel like you're part of the band...It's only your 4th lesson! Keep...

Length: 15:32 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Power to the Chords

Power chords are some of the most simple and ubiquitous tools for playing and making great songs. Learn the most basic shapes and put them to use right here! Dave also discusses the beginnings of strumming...

Length: 12:21 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Music & Melody

Learn a simple melody and take in a little info about what a 'key' is. You can learn the melody and have a friend strum the rhythm. Or, do it the other way around!

Length: 18:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Two Finger Chords & More

These simple, musical tools can take you a long way. Use your index and middle fingers to play a simple Am chord and a simple E chord. You'll also learn how to read chord charts and play through another...

Length: 16:46 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

A Simple Melody

You will be introduced to a simple A minor scale and then learn a song that helps you get your new scale under your finger tips!

Length: 12:08 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

Finger Independence

Do you ever feel like you are wearing mittens while you are trying to practice your guitar playing? If you have ever experienced this sensation, this lesson is for you!

Length: 11:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Let's Major on C Major

You'll be introduced to the C Major scale and then you'll be able to put it to use over a soothing acoustic guitar rhythm bed. Have fun!

Length: 10:37 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

The C Chord and G7 Chord

Here you'll get to spend some time applying some fundamental chord shapes. Dave shows how to switch between these two chords seamlessly and, as usual, has a creative example ready to go so you can put...

Length: 18:39 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

G and C Working Together

I know what you're thinking..."I just learned these!" Well, you did learn a C chord and a G chord, but this lesson goes over ways to play these chords together in a chord progression that REALLY sounds...

Length: 11:06 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Playing Most Songs

You've probably heard it before, but most songs out there can really be played with just 3 or 4 chords. In this lesson, Dave gives you the tools to play most of the songs you know and love!

Length: 14:04 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

Rhythm & Charts

We're moving into some new territory with this series now. You'll now be focusing more and more on material that you can play in a band setting. Up until now, you've been applying the basics to real music,...

Length: 24:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

A Taste of the Blues

Learn about the blues form and strum along with a cool, laid back, bluesy track. You'll be able to take the material in this lesson a long way down the road! Don't forget to have fun with it now though...

Length: 12:03 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
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

Four Fingers and a Chord

The mighty and intimidating F chord is one that most beginners see as a major hurdle in learning the basic chords on the guitar. Dave offers some ways to make the F chord more approachable. Once you examine...

Length: 15:35 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Chord Shapes & Arpeggios

Work on precision with your picking hand and more finger independence with your fretting hand using a soothing practice track called "Chimes". You'll get a good taste of combining melody and rhythm playing...

Length: 15:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
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...

Length: 14:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
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...

Length: 16:28 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
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.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Shifty Pentatonic

Learn the E minor pentatonic scale with a small position shift that will get you out of the open position and moving around the neck a little bit. This is where it really starts to feel like you are owning...

Length: 13:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 23

Let's Major on A Minor

Earlier in the series, we explored the C major scale. In this lesson, the A minor will get some love. Learn the basic open position and use it in a new melody.

Length: 15:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

In 7th Heaven

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.

Length: 13:32 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Walkin' The Blues

Take a moment to pat yourself on the back! You've covered a lot of ground so far! You've been playing real music now for some time, and in this lesson, we're going to learn a walking blues line. What is...

Length: 10:50 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
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.

Length: 15:31 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Moveable Pentatonic

In this lesson, you'll take another big step forward when it comes to working outside of the open position. You'll feel like doing some jamming too!

Length: 8:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Syncopated Strumming

There are eight more strum patterns for you to dig into in this lesson. This time, they are a bit trickier. Follow along with the rhythm charts and take each example in chunks if needed. Combine them with...

Length: 19:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

And Now...Barre Chords!

You knew it was coming! This is the lesson where we stop dancing around full fingered moveable chords and dive head first into the most common barre chord shapes. They're not as bad as you may be fearing....

Length: 19:21 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 30

Advancing with Blues

As the musical examples continue to distance themselves from that stereotypical beginner sound, Dave works through this track with a simple, moving melody inside a blues progression.

Length: 14:47 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Make It up as You Go

Some of you may have been waiting for this one! Now we'll focus on some improvisation...Some lead playing. It's not about knowing all the scales or trying to be fancy. It is about using what you know...

Length: 12:45 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 32

Like a Drummer

Learn how to create motion and percussive interest with your strumming. If you look at and listen to how drummers accent general grooves, there is a lot of insight there in to how to make your rhythm playing...

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

New Chords, New Strums

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Length: 21:19 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 34

A Start to Alternate Picking

Develop precision in your picking. Learn when it's best to use alternate picking. Get comfortable with a few exercises and then apply the technique in a musical context!

Length: 20:26 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 35

A Little Bluegrass

We're going to continue with rhythm playing and 16th note strumming, but this time we're going to touch on some laid back bluegrass playing. This is another simple style of playing to add to your arsenal.

Length: 10:06 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

A Bit More on Barre Chords

Learn a few more barre chord forms and get more advanced with your strumming. As you've come to know and love with these lessons, you'll have a chance to learn a new song!

Length: 13:51 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Here You Are

You've made it a long way if you've made it to the end of this series! In this final lesson of Mr. Isaacs beginner course, you'll spend some dedicated time moving both major and minor barre chord formations...

Length: 21:58 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only

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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