The Power of Pentatonics

Minor pentatonic blues scale on A
Minor pentatonic blues scale on A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Last time we discussed the Pentatonic Scale and Pentatonic Patterns. Chaim Burstein said, "Your own ear will always be your best guide as to what works and what doesn't." Let's continue with his very informative article.

Chord Scale Relationships


Most heptatonic scales such as locrian and lydian are useful for only one type of chord or another. In contrast, pentatonic scales may be used for over a dozen different chord sounds. There are 12 different uses of the pentatonic scale. There are chord types, like Major, Minor, Dominant, Altered Dominant, Sus4, Half Diminished,etc. Then there are scale degrees from which to build the major pentatonic and then we have the chord tones and tensions that each chord/scale relationship will produce. Thus, when the improvisor is given the chord CMaj7, he has the option of playing a pentatonic from the root 9th or 5th  of the chord.

Generally, the easiest way to apply these new chord/scale options is by practicing them over modal or static chord progressions.

Modal/Free Playing


Many improvisors complain of feeling boxed in or trapped by modal tunes and free playing over ostinatos. Pentatonics can provide a tonal framework with which to create new sounds that are not only interesting but structurally coherent as well.

Chord / Scale Options



C, D, E, G... D, E, G, A / D, E, F#, A... E, F, A, B / G, A, B, D... A, B, D, E / D, C, A, G, A

There are three possible chord/scale options for the chord CMaj7. (See above example) Notice how the  scalar pattern (from the last lesson) creates a consistency that links each new chord sound to the previous one.

Side Sweeping



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

A technique known as 'side-stepping' is shown above. In this example the improvisor defines the tonal center by clearly outlining a C major pentatonic scale in the first measure. Upon reaching the second measure, you play the same pattern a 1/2 step above from Db, thus taking the listener 'outside' of the prescribed harmony. Measures 3-4 bring the listener back 'inside' the changes by playing the descending version of the original C major pentatonic sequence.

You can combine the concept of alternative chord/scale options with side-stepping. Try playing the examples below and creating a few of your own. Notice how your ear recognizes the sequence and thus accepts each transposition of the pentatonic scale as a development of the previous idea.

Chord / Scale Options & Side Stepping Combined



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

To be continued... more later.

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