Pentatonic-Scale Patterns for Bass
The pentatonic scale is a five-note subset of the major scale that is often heard in the bass-line of rock, jazz, and blues songs.
The scale can broken down into five overlapping “box patterns” — each containing all of the notes of the scale. Each pattern connects to the one after it. By linking the patterns you can play the scale up and down the entire fretboard.
If you play bass, you owe it to yourself to practice and learn the pentatonic-scale patterns.
Practice the pentatonic scale alone is a great way to strengthen your fret-hand, increase your agility, and improve your tone.
Learning the scale patterns will immediately improve your ability to improvise new bass-lines and transcribe songs by ear.
Use the links above to download your bass-guitar pentatonic-scale poster. Tapping a link will trigger a prompt to download the file or open the poster in a new browser window.
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See below for more information about the pentatonic scales and how to use the poster.
About the Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is a five-note scale that is frequently used in jazz, rock and blues music. Simply playing up or down the scale generates a pleasing melody, so the pentatonic scale is commonly used as the foundation for guitar solos, song melodies and bass-lines.
The major pentatonic scale consists of five notes separated by the following intervals: whole, whole, minor-third, whole, minor-third.
The minor pentatonic scale consists of five notes separated by the following intervals: minor-third, whole, whole, minor-third, whole.
(In these intervals a "whole step" hits notes with one fret in between — a jump from fret 3 to fret 5, for example — and a "minor-third interval" hits notes that are one-and-one-half whole steps apart — such as a jump from fret 3 to fret 6.)
Note that a major pentatonic scale is the same as the traditional major scale with the fourth and seventh notes left out, so it reads "do re mi so la do" rather than "do re mi fa so la ti do" (the fa and ti notes are skipped).
How to use the Pentatonic-Scale Patterns
The pentatonic scale is often broken down into five overlapping patterns or "positions". Each position defines a "box pattern" that contains all the notes of the scale. Each position also connects to the following position, as illustrated in the poster. You can play the pentatonic scale by walking up and down the notes indicated in a single position. You can repeat the scale up and down the fretboard by playing the connected patterns in sequence.
Note that the pentatonic-scale patterns define more than one scale. Changing the note at which you begin the pattern changes the root note of the scale, creating a different scale for each of the twelve notes in an octave. For this reason you should be careful to learn the scale patterns — the intervals between the notes — rather than learning the scale by memorizing individual fret numbers.
When you know one or more of the pentatonic-scale positions, you can easily compose or even improvise compelling melodies or bass lines by playing around with these box patterns. Once you know all five positions and how they interconnect you can slide these box patterns up and down the fretboard to access the full tonal range of your bass.
If you've never worked with the pentatonic scale before, we recommend that you focus on one position at a time. Practice that position up and down the fretboard (repeating the scale with different root notes) until it becomes muscle memory. Then learn the next position, practicing it by itself and in sequence with the previous position, and repeat until you've learned to play all five positions from any point on the fretboard. This might sound tedious, but you'll be amazed how quickly you will learn to improvise guitar solos and bass lines once you've mastered even one of the pentatonic-scale patterns.
If you really want to jump-start your bass playing, try FATpick, the app that makes it easy and fun to learn new songs and master bass skills by playing along with your favorite artists.
FATpick even includes exercises to help you learn the pentatonic-scale patterns.
You can also find more free tools for guitar and bass players at FATpick.com.