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5 Must Know Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns

In today’s lesson we’ll be looking at 5 of my favorite jazz guitar pentatonic scale patterns.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “The minor pentatonic scale isn’t very jazzy.”

Well, sometimes it’s not. But, with the right pattern, a good sense of swing and the right tone, you can make the minor pentatonic scale come alive in your jazz guitar lines and solos.

Each pattern will provide you with unique sound quality that you can bring into your solos, and into your practice routine as you work it into the tunes, Jazz Chord Progressions and ear training exercises that make up your daily time spent in the woodshed.

So, without further ado, here they are, 5 Must Know Pentatonic Scale Patterns.

Got a question or comment about this lesson? Visit the 5 Pentatonic Patterns thread in the MWG Forum.

Learn Jazz Guitar Scales and Scale Patterns with the Matt Warnock Guitar Jazz Scales App.


Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns 1 – 1 Up 1 Down


This pattern is built by playing one ascending interval followed by a descending interval, creating a three-note pattern.

The first interval is a “third” in the sense that you play the first note, then skip a note in the scale and play the note that is three notes higher in the scale.

Then, you descend down one note in the scale to finish the pattern, such as the A-D-C in the first bar of the written example below.

To run this pattern up the scale, you then just to the second note of the first pattern and start from there. So, in this case you would play A-D-C, then start the next pattern on D, D-G-E, then start the next pattern on G and so on.

Because it is a three-note pattern, if you play it in continuous 8th notes as is the case with the example below, you create a syncopated effect that hides the bar line since you are playing a three-note pattern over a 2-note rhythm.


5 Must Know Pentatonic Patterns 1



Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns 2 – 2 Up 1 Down


The second pattern is a favorite of mine that I took from Lenny Breau, and is played by stacking two notes on top of your starting note, then falling back down by one note to finish the lick.

To begin, you play the first note of the scale, then you skip a note and play the note on the same fret one string higher. You do this one more time to build the ascending section of the line, A-D-G in the first bar of the example below.

From there, you simply fall down to the closest scale note to complete the four-note pattern, A-D-G-E in the written example.

To continue this pattern, you start it again on the second note of the first group of four notes. So, you play A-D-G-E, then D-G-C-A, G-C-E-D and finally C-E-A-G to complete the line as you’ve now run out of room in this position.

This four-note pattern sits nicely when you run it up the neck using 8th notes, but if you want to go for a syncopated feel, try playing it with triplets, so a four-note pattern over a three-note rhythm. Very hip!


5 Must Know Pentatonic Patterns 2



Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns 3 – Up 1 Down the Next


The third pattern is a descending lick that goes up the “right” side of the scale, G-C in the written example, then down the “left” side of the scale, A-E in the example.

This pattern then continues down the scale starting on each note on the “right” side of the pentatonic fingering you’re using.

To add a bit more modern feel to this pattern, try putting a pull-off between the two notes that occur on the same string.

So, in the first four-note group you could put a pull-off on the first string between the notes C and A for example, then continue this idea as you work your way down the scale.


5 Must Know Pentatonic Patterns 3



Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns 4 – Side Step Down


With this pattern we’re getting a bit more modern as we introduce an “inside-outside” lick to the pentatonic scale.

The crux of this pattern is that you play four notes of the A minor pentatonic scale, then you play four notes of the Bb minor pentatonic scale.

You continue this back and forth until you reach the top of the scale and run out of room on the neck.

This technique is called “side-stepping” and has been used by many great jazzers such as John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker and others.

It won’t fit into every musical situation, so get this lick under your fingers and then let your ears and musical taste dictate when is the right time to unleash this idea in a jam or gig situation.


5 Must Know Pentatonic Patterns 4



Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns 5 – Side Step Up


Again, with this lick you are using a side-step technique to ascend the neck, moving between A minor pentatonic and Bb minor pentatonic as you go.

The difference with this lick is that you are shifting up the neck instead of back to the original position as you did with the previous pattern.

Because of this, you are covering three different “box-patterns” as you move up the neck, which is why this pattern can be very effective. Not only will it bring an “inside-outside” sound to your lines, but it will allow you to run up from the 5th to the 12th fret and all six strings at the same time.


5 Must Know Pentatonic Patterns 5



How to Practice Jazz Guitar Pentatonic Scale Patterns


Here are some of my favorite ways to practice these, and any, scale patterns in the woodshed.


  • Run these patterns with a metronome in the given key from 50 to 250 bpms if possible.
  • Work each pattern in 12 keys along with the metronome at various tempos.
  • Practice soloing over a one-chord vamp, using one or more patterns as the basis for your lines.
  • Practice soloing over a Jazz Blues Progression, using one or more patterns as the basis for your lines.
  • Practice soloing over a Jazz Standard, using one or more patterns as the basis for your lines.


As you work through each of these scale patterns, the goal is to get your chops up, but also be able to inject these ideas in a natural and musical manner when you take them to a jam session or gig situation.

So have fun with them and see where these patterns will fit into your technical and improvisational workout this week.

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  1. camper, December 10, 2012:

    thanks, nice lesson

  2. CD Smith, December 12, 2012:

    Dr. Warnock,

    I find your system for jazz improvisation very interesting…I have been studying some of Robert Conti material.

    His approach involves not learning scales and modes but learning by playing jazz. You copy what he does and that helps you get the rythmic feel to play jazz.

    His method is very attractive especially after you have tried to learn jazz by spending hours memorizing scales and modes and then trying to understand how to use them, unsucessfully.

    However, with his approach, I really don’t understand “why” what he does works..

    Is your approach to jazz improvisation better? Is learning scales and modes necessary to play jazz?

  3. Matthew Warnock, December 12, 2012:


    Thanks for checking out my site, glad you are enjoying the articles. I think that it’s good to learn some scales and arpeggios, the building blocks of music, mixed with learning licks and patterns, the language of jazz. So a mixture of both is what I’ve done over the years and it’s worked well for me.

    Hope that helps.

  4. 5slopoke9, July 24, 2013:

    Hi Matt,

    My question is on technique. When you are playing and you encounter two or more notes on the same fret above or below one another on different strings do you use the same finger or alternate fingers ? Is there a rule or is it what feels like a fit for the player. Thanks for your time and for the practice material.

  5. Matt Warnock, July 24, 2013:

    Yep, whenever I have two notes on the same fret and different strings I roll the same finger over to use one finger for both notes. Hope that helps!

  6. mulgreaux, November 14, 2013:

    Matt- excellent lesson. I really like the side-stepping examples! Please cover some more on this technique with some contextual examples and a bit of analysis of what is being harmonically implied by the outside notes.

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