View Full Version : "How" do you play the minor pentatonic scale on uke?

10-08-2014, 12:39 PM
I have known about the minor pentatonic scale for years now. Yeh sure; play those notes and you sound like you're playing the blues.

Since I started playing ukulele before guitar, I have always played the root note on the low-G string of the uke (4th string).

I have recently been playing guitar too (heresy!) and soon learned that they play the root note on the low E string (6th). It has taken me sime time to adjust as I have been accustomed to playing the root on the 4th. Then it occured to me that you can play the scale on the ukulele as though it is a guitar missing the two bass strings. So the root would be on an imaginary 6th string, rather than using the 4th string note as the root.

Has anyone run into this phenomena? What are your thoughts from a technical perspective when it comes to playing?

In practicality, I do use both ways to fit the music and feel, but it still does give me a bit of a brainfart as I go from thinking I'm playing the scale on a guitar missing strings to an ukulele style fingering distinct from guitar (and implementing the use of the 4th string as the root on a guitar..). Is playing the scale starting on different strings as the root a thing people do intentionally? Or is it better to just focus on one position?

10-08-2014, 12:57 PM
I have no idea, but I think the penta means fifths....I haven't even learned to play minor scales yet, just now learning to play the major ones. Go figure, I been noodling on the uke for 4 years now....
well, it IS a hobby, guess I'm not very serious....but I'm learning Campangnella style picking.....I guess I have it backward....
who cares, as long as it's fun, right?
I do welcome an explanation for the OP's question.....I'm here to learn, and post stupid stuff when I'm bored at work....
now what the heck are 6th double stops?

10-08-2014, 01:09 PM
You need to learn to play the scale in different positions. The tonic will not always be on the E string. Or G string.

The good news is that the minor pentatonic patterns are identical to the major pentatonic patterns of the key's relative major. (i.e. C major pentatonic is also A minor pentatonic.)

10-08-2014, 02:21 PM
Capo a guitar at the 5th, and see what the first 4 strings are. Then measure the scale length & you'll know why guys like me use classical guitar strings on my instruments. I actually taught and friend about the 1/5 chord structure on the 3&4 strings, and how wherever you are on the 4, two frets up on the 3 is the 5th.

10-08-2014, 05:35 PM
You need to learn to play the scale in different positions. The tonic will not always be on the E string. Or G string.

The good news is that the minor pentatonic patterns are identical to the major pentatonic patterns of the key's relative major. (i.e. C major pentatonic is also A minor pentatonic.)

This has been good food for thought.
The more i practice soloing along to backtracks, the more i am realising that soloing involves playing the scales at different positions for variety.

In this case, knowing how to go from the 4th string as the root and 6th string as the root is a benefit.

And as I familiarise with more positions and patterns, I guess I become more fluent on the fretboard

10-08-2014, 11:28 PM
The minor pentatonic is what I believe you’re talking about. One way to look at it is three patterns across the fretboard spanning 2 octaves. After that the patterns repeat.

Let’s look at an A minor pentatonic scale. The first pattern would be:

(from the G string to the A string with 2 notes on each string, 0= open, number= fret)

0-2 0-2 0-3 0-3

The root is the 2nd fret on the G string. Just like how you play an A minor chord. 2nd fret of the G string and the rest open. The root is also the open high A string. If there were two lower strings like a guitar then the top and bottom would be tuned the same and would both be a root note.

2nd pattern

5-7 4-7 5-8 5-7 only root is the 5th fret on the E string.

3rd pattern

9-12 9-12 10-12 10-12 root is your last note, the 12 on the A string ending the 2nd octave and patterns repeat.

The trick is to see the whole pattern across the 12 frets as one and then you can become fluid with it.

Also understand the versatility. With D Minor pentatonic that first pattern we looked at would start at the 5th fret. So the third pattern right behind it would be closer to first position chords.

This pattern, or scale is the minor scale minus a few notes. If you play it over the root minor chord you can do rockish type stuff but when you play it over the dominant 7 you get that bluesier sound. So playing that A minor pentatonic over an A7 would do that thing. You can go to the D7 using it quite nicely too. Using minor over major sounds cool but you can even use it over other relative keys by changing your root note. But that’s getting beyond your question…

Of course knowing is only half the battle….


10-09-2014, 02:19 AM
The Pentatonic scale has one limitation. I prefer to think of this as a feature. What's in a word? Anyway the feature is that a song played in a pentatonic scale never resolves itself. It never has a natural way to end the song. Another way of looking at this is since there are only 5 notes in the scale, if you avoid the other 7 "bad" notes when playing you will always sound "Good". Well, at least you will fit in.:p

This is useful when playing rounds or a run on song. Think of "Talking Blues" or songs like Alice's Restaurant. If you are singing/telling a long or complicated/convoluted piece it makes it easier to concentrate on the words. Think of "I'm my own Gran-pa" or Patter songs likes G&S' "Modern Major General" or ballads such as "Tamlin" It also is useful When playing songs with only one or two Chords: "Chicken Reel" "John Henry".

In old time fiddle tunes pentatonic scales may be used to produce "Modal" tunes. "Shady Grove/Matty Grove" And "Old Joe Clark" can be played either in a major or modal key or major/modal mixed. I personally like to mix the two. Modal tunes have a particular quality that is difficult to describe in words. But if you play either of the previous tunes all three ways you will immediately hear what I'm saying.

There are doubtless other ways to use pentatonic scales.

I am interested in the chords used when playing in pentatonic keys. Key of Cmaj I-C, II-Dm, III-Em, IV-F, V-G7, VI-Am, VII-Bdim. (Think I got that right). What is the Similar Chord pattern for pentatonic "Keys"?

When playing the Dulcimer, Pentatonic scales are referred to as Dorian Mode, or so I believe.

Dan Uke
10-09-2014, 03:33 AM

This might help.

10-09-2014, 03:47 AM

This might help.

Very useful, nongdam.

Kissing, notice that the patterns on both major and minor sides of the diagram are identical (ignore the blue notes, for now) - just played at a different fret. The C Major Pentatonic is also the A Minor Pentatonic. The C Minor Pentatonic is also the Eb Major Pentatonic... You only need to learn the one set of patterns, then just remember where the root is.

10-09-2014, 07:01 AM
Go chromatic and be free

10-09-2014, 07:09 AM
Go chromatic and be free

Lol! There's a reason why they're called "accidentals."

Dan Uke
10-09-2014, 10:57 AM
Go chromatic and be free

Seriously!! Most of us play by ourself anyways or memorize a few licks so you sound like you know something. hehehe

10-10-2014, 02:02 AM
Clearly I misunderstood dorian mode in my earlier post. I'm not so sure I understand it yet.

I thank nongdam for the chart. Too many dots for me to understand that one but I got the part about the blue note being the flatted fifth note. (always wondered about that).

I thank ubulele as well. I got the part about starting the scale on the 2nd note of the tonic- the dulcimer-capo put that into perspective for me. I'll have to transpose your illustrative example into C to see if I understand more fully. I sing well in C and can relate well to the all whitekey scale imagery when figuring intervals. Right now I see Dorian as a flatted 3rd and flatted 7th turns a major scale into a Dorian minor. Insight is a peculiar thing.

Seriously!! Most of us play by ourself anyways or memorize a few licks so you sound like you know something. hehehe

nongdam I heartily disagree I always play with other people. I practice by myself, but practice is work not play. I have been known to learn a couple licks and tricks to make me sound better than I am though.

10-10-2014, 02:57 AM
No, Dorian mode is essentially when the second note of the major scale is treated as the tonic. In other words, it's like natural minor mode with a major 6th instead of a minor 6th, or like a major scale but with a minor 3rd and minor 7th. D Dorian includes the same notes as the C major scale: D E F G A B C (D). C Dorian includes C D Eb F G A Bb C. This holds regardless of what instrument you play. On a dulcimer, to play in Dorian, you can either move your tonic up one step (optionally capoing at the first fret) or retune one of the strings.

The confusion may come because if you make a gapped scale by omitting the 6th note of the minor scale, you can play a tune with that same tonic but which could be interpreted as Dorian instead of simple minor, and harmonized accordingly. The 6th is one of the two notes omitted for the common minor pentatonic scale, so a minor pentatonic tune could also potentially be harmonized as being in Dorian mode (or Phrygian, if you want to get a bit outré).

To illustrate, consider these modes, all based on the same tonic:
A minor (Aeolian): A B C D E F G (A)
A Dorian: A B C D E F# G (A)
A Phrygian: A Bb C D E F G (A)
A minor pentatonic: A . C D E . G (A)
The missing note in the first pentatonic gap could correspond to either B or Bb; the note in the second gap could correspond to either F or F#. So you really can't tell which of these modes the pentatonic tune best matches. (Since chords are build in thirds, the harmony must fill in the gaps somehow.) In fact, the mode could fluctuate between them, just like a tune could use both F and F# roughly equally, making the overall mode ambiguous.

Many interesting replies to this thread and good information. I think it is cool to see how people come at this from slightly different intellectual directions. It is too early in the morning to talk about modes. I need another cup of coffee.

Edited to add: by intellectual directions, I mean that we all see it in different ways, and utilize our individual learning styles when chewing on this information.

10-10-2014, 03:00 AM
I'll drink to that.