Melodic Minor Pentatonic Lesson

E Melodic Minor one string

Read Time 4 Minutes

Extractions aren’t just for teeth anymore!

I’m really excited about the work I’ve been doing for my latest book, Pentatonic Extractions, so I wanted to share some of the new material with you. In this lesson, I’ll explain one way to create a pentatonic from a seven-note scale and adapt it to the Melodic Minor scale.  You’ll learn how to create some cool sounds with only a small change to patterns that you probably already know.

Pentatonic Extraction

Pentatonic scales are interesting melodic devices because their intervals rest somewhere between an arpeggio and a scale. Personally,  I find them to be more “open” sounding and less dense than a seven-note scale.  So here’s how to break create a pentatonic sound using material that’s familiar.

If we have any seven-note scale, eliminating two notes will create a pentatonic  (5-note) scale.

For example, if I have E Natural Minor:

(E, F#, G, A, B, C and D or Root, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6 and b7), one extraction would be:

E, G, A, B and D aka

(Root, b3, 4, 5 and b7) aka

the pentatonic minor scale.


The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line”

The first step in this process is to see and hear a melodic minor scale. I like to do this with a single string.

For the sake of comparison, here’s an E Major scale played on the high E string. Since I’m using a single string – I’ll use E Major (E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#).

E Major One String
E-Major Scale – Click to Enlarge

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In  case you’re wondering, the reason I’ve played the scale with a low E-string drone is to help get the sound of the scale in my head.

The scale formula for a Melodic Minor scale is R, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Applying this to E Melodic Minor (E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D#) on a single string produces the following:

E Melodic Minor one string
E Melodic Minor – Click to Enlarge

You could use any five notes from the scale, but for this pentatonic extraction, I’ll use the same scale degrees as the Pentatonic Minor scale which leaves me with R, b3, 4, 5 and 7 (or E, G, A, B and D#).

Melodic Minor Pent Extraction One String
E Melodic Minor Pentatonic Extraction        –  Click to Enlarge

Get into postion

The next step in this process it to see how this scale works positionally. In the example below, I’ve put an E Pentatonic Minor scale on the left and an E Melodic Minor scale on the right.

E Min Pent and E Mel Min Pent
E Min Pent – E Mel Min Pent – Click to Enlarge

Note that the only difference between this scale and an E Pentatonic Minor is the D#, but one note can make a big difference in a scale! Let’s look at some licks to hear how it sounds.


 Since I’m looking for an alternate flavor to a Penatatonic Minor scale, I hear these licks in one of two contexts:


  • The most stable sound for these licks is to play them over the V7 chord (i.e. B7) resolving to E minor (B7->Em).
  • For an unsettled sound, use this over an E minor chord to create an E min(maj7) sound.


While these licks will technically work over any harmonization of the E melodic minor scale, I’d recommend starting with these two chords and then going from there.


Lick #1:

Bending Lick
Click to Enlarge

In the mp3 below, I’m playing this lick in a rubato style. I’m starting from the C# (outside of the pentatonic scale but part of E Melodic Minor) to add tension into the bend into D#. Ditto for the F# going into D. I’ve simplified the notation here to show the bends – but listen to the mp3 to get the actual phrasing.

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Lick #2:

Alternate Picking Lick
Click to Enlarge

Here’s an alternate picking lick that works off the box pentatonic shape we looked at earlier. Pay close attention to the fingering!

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Lick #3:

Open String Lick
Click to Enlarge

Here’s a country-style open string lick with an extra #4/b5 thrown in for a little chromatic flair. Since the pentatonic scale has the notes E, B and G as part of the scale, don’t be afraid to incorporate those open strings into licks that you’re generating!


The picking hand uses a series of hammer ons and middle finger attacks. The fretting hand tries to stay as relaxed as possible.

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Lick #4:

Sweep Pick Lick
Click to Enlarge

In this example, I’ve pulled the lick out of the 12th position and added a cyclical element with the sweep picking. Conceptually, I see this as  the ugly brother of the opening to Alan Holdsworth’s Road Games. I’ve included my own picking pattern for this example, but feel free to incorporate whatever works best for you.

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Lick #5:

String Skip Lick
Click to Enlarge

Here’s a string skipping variation that only uses four unique notes in each sextuplet (D#, E, G and B in the first sextuplet and E, G, A and D# in the second). I like these types of sounds as an interesting variation to using all 5 notes of the pentatonic scale. I’ve indicated hammer ons in the tablature, but I’ll generally play licks lick this with alternate picking.


Watch out for those wide intervals! If the lick is too hard to play with just the fretting hand, try tapping the top note of each group.

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Lick #6:

Sweep Pick Lick #2
Click to Enlarge

Finally, here’s another sweep-picked lick that gets some mileage out of the tritone between the A and D strings. Pay careful attention to the position shift on the B string.

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For those of you who are interested, all of the examples here were recorded directly in my iPhone with the JamUp Pro app.  Be sure to check back for a review of that app!


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Scott Collins

Scott Collins is the author of the pedagogical/reference series, <i>The GuitArchitect’s Guide To:</i> and several e-book titles that include: <i>An Indie Musician Wake Up Call</i> and <i>Selling It Versus Selling Out</i>. His playing is inspired by a wide range of western and non-western music, and, as a performer, he specializes in real-time composition.

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