In my last post I introduced the minor pentatonic scale. Is there a major pentatonic scale? Well yes. Is it as easy to play as the minor pentatonic? Again yes. All we do is slide the scale down three frets and play the lowest root note with our fourth finger. I have included both the minor and major pentatonic scales below. They both use the same fingering so you only have to memorise one shape. Take a look.
A Minor Pentatonic:
A Major Pentatonic:
You will notice both scales look very similar. In fact the A major pentatonic uses the exact same notes as F# minor pentatonic but you start the scale from the A root note on the 5th fret of the low E string. I have also included, in blue, the typical notes that you may bend a whole tone up (2 frets). When starting to play solos based around the major pentatonic (or the minor) try playing phrases that start or finish on the root note (the note A in these examples).
In some situations you can use either the major or minor pentatonic or switch between them. You will notice that the major pentatonic has a brighter happy feel to it whereas the minor pentatonic sounds more moody! Just switching between them over some chord progressions, particularly blues and rock progressions, can create some nice light and shade; and when improvising, this allows you to take things up, and down, in intensity whenever you want.
However, some chord progressions will only work well with one or other of these scales: a twelve bar minor blues where all the chords are minor will probably not work too well with the major pentatonic and likewise a chord progression that is very obviously major will favour using the major pentatonic scale exclusively.
There are plenty of in between scenarios though: a lot of rock progressions rely on power chords, that do not have a 3rd in them, which means switching from major to minor can be done by using the major or minor pentatonic; blues progressions that are made up of dominant 7th chords, such as A7, D7, E7 sound great with the minor pentatonic and the odd clash of major and minor 3rds adds a nice tension to the sound. Flipping between major and minor pentatonic can really add a great feel to your solos.
With a 12 bar blues progression based around A7, D7 and E7 try playing the whole 12 bars just using the minor pentatonic and then repeat the 12 bars with the major pentatonic scale. After this try playing the first 4 bars using major and then move to the minor for the D7 chord change and then back again to the major for the change to the A7. See how using each of the 2 scales sounds on each chord. When this becomes familiar you can play a few notes of each and flip between them whenever you feel like it. Plenty of room for individual expression here. Have fun!