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No B.S. Guitar Q&A: Should I learn the pentatonic scale first or the major scale?

by Johnny

Hey it’s Johnny,

Scales. They’re a big part of guitar, right?

And technically, you “should” learn them. Knowing the scales helps you come up with your own solos and melodies. But I still think you ought to focus mostly (like 90%) on learning licks, solos, and melodies that are already being used in your favorite songs. This way, you’ll have FUNCTIONAL intuitive understanding of what notes sound good together.

If you ask me, that’s way more useful for creating music than any theoretical knowledge of scales.

That being said, you can still benefit from learning a scale or two. Anyway, today’s question…

Question:

Should I learn the pentatonic scale first or the major scale?

My Answer:

I’m gonna go with pentatonic here. And there’s LOTS of reasons why.

One big reason is because the pentatonic scale contains no “sour” notes, and is 5 notes versus 7 for the major scale.

It’s easier to remember. You can easily play it without screwing up in terms of hitting a bad note. So that’s one less thing to think about. Meaning you sound half-decent and are more likely to wanna continue.

It’s a LOT harder to sound half-decent when learning a major scale. It’s littered with “land mines” that you can accidentally hit at any time and blow up your whole solo.

However, (and here comes another benefit of learning your favorite solos) a good way to avoid stepping on a land mine would be to internalize lots of solos that use the major scale. This way, your hands automatically know what notes sound good without any thinking involved.

You’ll practice the scale, and do so in a musical way at the same time. 2 birds, 1 stone.

Actually, it’s 3 birds, because you’ll also have more fun. Running up and down scales can be insanely boring if you don’t enjoy self-torture. When it comes time to improv, you’ll have actual licks under your belt you can use!

So I recommend this route, but be sure to tie the solo back to the scale so you get practice with theory as well.

But wait, there’s more :-)

More advantages of the pentatonic scale… I’m gonna get somewhat theoretical here…

There is no “tritone” or “devil’s interval” or diminished fifth because that normally happens between the fourth and seventh of the major scale. Pentatonic scales eliminate that.

The Tritone is considered to be “dissonant” interval, and is difficult to sing. It creates a lot of tension and needs to be handled more carefully, or avoid altogether. Which is why beginners should stick with the pentatonic scale.

Lastly, there are also no half-steps, which are typically more difficult for the human voice to sing than other intervals. All these things taken together have contributed to the minor pentatonic scale being probably THE MOST recommended scale for beginners (specifically the Am pentatonic starting on the 5th fret).

So there you have it. Learn the pentatonic scale first and you should be able to rip out a few Jimmy Page guitar riffs with it.

For a more in depth look at scales and music theory, check out Desi Serna’s Fretboard Theory program. It’s a lot more comprehensive.

Have fun and lemme know what you think below :-)

~Johnny

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