How to improvise a guitar solo using the pentatonic scale

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Have you ever wished you could improvise an awesome guitar solo like Hendrix, Page or Van Halen? But when you try to freestyle notes to compliment a song but it sounds wrong? Then you need to read below!

First things first

Most songs follow a widely used chord progression pattern where the chords stay the same for most of the song or at least a section like the chorus, verse etc. The key will generally remain the same throughout a song, but the chords will change.

The best guitar soloists will change their soloing strategy based on the chord rather than the key as each chord has notes that compliment it (the first 3 notes are always the one that make up the chord). For example the notes that compliment the C major and minor chords are as follows:

C major – C, E, G (the C chord) F , A and Bb. D and B can be used as connectors, but do not hold these for more than a beat.
C minor – C, Eb, G then A and Bb. D and B can again be used as connectors like for C major, but do not hold these for more than a beat.

Circle of 5ths

In music theory there is an image known as the circle of fifths (see image) it is a visual circle-of-fifthsrepresentation of the relationships among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale and the major and minor keys, in which the next pitch is found seven semitones higher than the last. Just like with people, certain notes just don’t get along, if you want to learn how to improvise it is important to know what notes go well together.

The circle is used by composers to help harmonize melodies, build chords and modulate to different keys within a composition. And thus is super important if you want to guitar solo!

It looks complicated but it’s not! Have a good look and you will see how it shows the flats/sharps in each key.

The pentatonic scale

Now that you understand more about notes and their relationships you can learn about the pentatonic scale.

The pentatonic scale is the most common scale used for playing the rock lead guitar solo because it sounds great over every chord change in a key. You’ll need to change scale when the chord changes.

To get you started you need to think of each chord as having 5 degree numbers from 1 to 7.

All major pentatonic scales use scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6; they do not use degrees 4 and 7. 

The C major pentatonic scale uses notes C – D – E – G – A, you will notice that the F and B are missing which are the 4th and 7th degrees. Check out the image below:


All minor pentatonic scales use scale degrees 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7; they do not use degrees 2 and 6. 

The E minor pentatonic scale uses notes E – G- A – B – D, you will notice that the F and C are missing (the 2nd and 6th degrees!). Check out the image below:


How to guitar solo with the pentatonic scale

The pentatonic scale is the same pattern for all keys but starting on different frets depending on the chord you want to play along with.

pentatonic scaleThe available notes for the pentatonic scales are shown in the image (don’t worry it is not a crazy chord!). Like a tab the top line is the first string. Your index finger will play all of the notes on the first fret, the ring finger on the 3rd fret and the little finger of the 4th fret. Like a barre chord, you can move this configuration up and down frets to find different pentatonic scales.

The tab would look as follows:


There are 5 different pentatonic scale patterns with this being the principal one.

Tips to help your guitar solo

  • Learn the Dm pentatonic scale as you can play it over the following chords: F, Bb, C major, G, A D minor
  • End your scale on the root note as it will reinforce the key. Much like how you end a song on the root chord.
  • Listen for the notes that sound best over each chord and try to play these more often.
  • Change positions when you play so you play low notes and high notes.
  • Use bends, slides, and vibrato to enhance your solos.
  • Why not try out solo-ing along to a song on Jellynote?





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