Pentatonic Scale Patterns on Piano

 If you want to be able to improvise and use pentatonic scale patterns on the piano to create interesting and exciting solos then read on.

Knowing the notes of the pentatonic scale is one thing but turning that knowledge into practical playing skill is another.

While playing piano and keyboards professionally over the years I was often asked to take a piano solo.

No matter what style of music I was asked to play I needed to be able to comfortably improvise an appropriate and interesting piano or keyboard solo over the chord progression of a song.

Whether it was jazz, blues,rock, country or top 40 pop, the basic starting point for me was the pentatonic scale.

I made a living for a long while with a few pentatonic scale patterns that were comfortable to play and versatile enough to get me through just about any style of music.

It is my intention in this lesson to share these simple pentatonic scale patterns with you in the hopes that you will be able to use them in your playing.

Learning pentatonic scale patterns.

If you are not yet familiar with the pentatonic scale you may want to review the lessons on the pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale.

Those lessons will give your the theory behind the scale and what notes to use in any given key  while in this lesson we will discuss more about what makes an interesting keyboard solo using this handy improvisation scale.

There are a few elements that go into creating interesting melodies and improvisations using pentatonic scale patterns.

First you must develop some sort of finger dexterity. There is no way around it, finger dexterity takes some practice.


The  absolute best way to develop fast and agile fingers are scale and finger exercises.

This can be tedious at times but a little extra effort, even 5 or ten minutes a day will pay off quickly and get you to the point where you dont have to think about what fingers to use , you will be free to use more inspiration in your playing.

If you are interested in getting a tried and true method to gain the speed and dexterity you will need I suggest the method that I and almost all serious players use and that is a book called "Hannon, The Virtuoso Pianist."


Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises, Complete (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 925)

{ There are two ways to get and digest the Hannon virtuoso pianist exercises. If you are a reader you can purchase the book through amazon or many of my students prefer a video method you can check out at Hear and Play Hannon. }

A suggested hand position to begin.

Lets assume that the song is in the key of C or A minor.

I use two different hand positions when teaching this scale as well as when I am actually improvising or soloing with the scale.

Position one, would be Right hand thumb on A which is the sixth note of the C pentatonic scale.

The rest of your fingers would then fall naturally on B, C, D, and E.

You then have 4 of the 5 notes under your fingers with you 3rd finger being the Root of the scale.

Although the B note is not part of the 5 note scale you will find it will fit in places as a passing tone as well as being part of the G pentatonic scale which will be useful if you are in the Key of C.

Position two would be right hand thumb on the E note which is the third note of the 5 note scale in the key of C.

Skip the F note and place second finger on G, third finger on A, and fifth finger on C. Now you have E, G, A, and C under your fingers.

Try each of the above hand positions individually for a while until you are comfortable with each and then try moving from one position to another by shifting the position of your thumb from A, to E.

You will see this demonstrated in the videos below

So you know your pentatonic scale and are pretty comfortable with a few pentatonic scale patterns on the keyboard.  Now what?

How do we create interesting melodies and solos that fit with the song style we are playing? That is what this lesson is about.

Playing solos, or improvising on the keyboard has to be the most fun thing for me. I enjoy using creativity and spontenaiety in my playing and so will you.

You can follow a few rules of thumb and watch the videos below to get started.

So lets jump in!

I say that because the first step is a little like jumping into strange lake. A little less dangerous but but still uncomfortable

Find some chord changes like the ones below and play a few random notes from the pentatonic scale. I recommend just a few notes to start.

Lets call these few notes a musical phrase

Pick a phrase, any phrase will do.

It will either sound good to you or not.

If it sounds good repeat it. If not don't repeat it, try another.

Repetition is good.

When you hear a familiar melody it is pleasing because you recognize it. In order to recognize it you must hear it more than once.


Too much repetition is sameness and becomes boring so you want to change things up a little as you repeate your initial phrase.

There are two elements to any phrase and you can achieve repetition as well as variety by making sublte changes to either the melodic element or the rythmic element.

Remember again, to much variety is sameness and also boring.

Much like a conversation the goal is to make a musical statement and then continue to embellish on that statement  keeping the same basic theme.


I am providing some video examples below to show you how the same pentatonic scale patterns can be used over different chord progression and with different styles of music. As you will see. This simple 5 note scale can be quite versatile and useful.

The great thing is that you will develop your own style and personality as you learn to express your feelings musically.

As well as the basic pentatonic scale patterns you can add the blue notes to the scale the flatted 3rd 5th and 7th of the scale for more variety depending again on the style of the music. For more on the blue scale visit this lesson on The Blues Scale.

Another factor that goes into your improvisation is the mood or style of the song and if you are a keyboard player that has a multi-timberal instrument the type of sound or instrument you are emulating.

Remember a trumpet can only play one note at a time and the player has to breath every now and then.


There are  several keys you can play the pentatonic scale patterns in and the patterns will look the same and finger the same on the keyboard. Those keys a C, F, and G major, and their related minors A minor D minor and E minor.

People Get ready, Uses the C major and A minor pentatonic scale patterns in the first video. I have added some interesting chords that are not diatonic to the key of C but you will be able to play the pentatonic scales over them. the non-diatonic chords are the E7 and D7 chords.

The chord changes for "People Get Ready" are as follows:

l C Em l F C l: 2x    l C G/B l Am E7/G# l D7/F# F l Dm G    C l

I decided to use a basic minor blues progression in this video and chose to try and emulate an electric guitar sound to demonstrate pitch bending for those of you who may have an instrument with that feature. This is a basic 12 bar blues in A minor and will use the a minor pentatonic scale with a few added "blue " notes.

I invented this chord progression in F maj. to demonstrate that the same pentatonic scale patterns we used in C major and A minor will feel the same to your fingers and can still work in a Latin Grove.

The Chord progression is as follows:

l Gm C7 l F Dm l 2X     l Bb A+ l Dm G7 l Gm C7 l Fmay7 l Eb   ll D+ l

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Contact me

If you have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future lessons feel free to Contact Me.

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