Pentatonic Practice

Piano Diana: Pentatonic Practice


 Continuing with the final part of an article by Chain Burstein. He holds a M.M. in Jazz Studies from the University of the arts in Philadelphia and a B.M. from Berklee College of Music. He currently is residing in Philadelphia where he is working as an active musician and educator.

Running Changes

Pentatonics are not confined to only model and free jazz improvisations. In fact, pentatonics can provide the improvisor with a break from his or her 'stock licks' when running changes. To break away from the scalar, or arpeggiated lines of your typical ii-V-I, I have provided two different ways of approaching the progression with pentatonics. Utilize a pentatonic pattern built upon 4ths and 2nds. The formula for the ascending pattern is as follows: skip (up), step (down), skip (up), step (down). The descending pattern would read: skip (down), step (up), skip (down), step (up). Although both examples utilize the same pattern, they each approach the progression differently.

Example: ii-V-I

Dm7                               /  G7alt                                     /  CMaj7

G, B, A, D... B, E, D, G /  Ab, C, Bb, Eb... C, F, E, Ab / G, B, A, D... B, E, D, G... E, A, G, B

The above example is a typical ii-V-I in the key of C. The pentatonics played over  each chord are as follows: Dm7 = G pentatonic, G7Alt = Ab pentatonic and CMay7 = G pentatonic. The resulting line is effective for several reasons. First, there is a pattern which our ear naturally gravitates towards. second, each pattern begins on the root of its respective pentatonic, making it easier for our ears to recognize. Lastly, the pentatonic patterns move around in half steps. Half step resolutions are very powerful and can often warrant the use of so called 'wrong notes'. The first example contains a so-called 'wrong note' in the second bar. Even though the 4th is an avoid note on the V7alt, our ears justify the 'wrong note' because of the consistency created by both the pentatonic pattern and its chromatic movement between each chord change.

The second example displays the same ii-V-I progression with different pentatonics superimposed over each chord. They are as follows: Dm7 = C pentatonic, G7Alt = Db pentatonic, and CMaj7 = D pentatonic. We still have chromatic movement between each pentatonic pattern. However, instead of creating the sound of parallel structures by starting from the root of each pentatonic as in the first example. The second example below sounds more like one continuous idea based upon an intervallic line. This result is achieve by starting the new pattern as close as possible to where the last pattern left off.

Example: ii-V-I

Dm7                             / G7Alt                                     / CMaj7

C, E, D, G- E, A, G, C / Bb, Eb, Db, F.-Eb, Ab, F, Bb / A, E, F#, D- E, B, D, A- B, F#, A, E, F#, D, E

Pentatonic Practice

Hopefully, the techniques and skills outlined in this article have shed some light on the many uses of the pentatonic scale... Always remember to experiment with your own patterns and ideas as well. Oftentimes improvisors see a chord or a scale and forget that jazz is about thinking 'outside the box'. Your own ear will always be your best guide as to what works and what doesn't.

Heading out for a mini vacation. I'm attending a worship conference. Talk with you next week!

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"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey

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