Dec 29, 2008

Pentatonic Scales - Lesson 1

For a while now I've been wanting to do some really stellar Jazz guitar lessons, but I must admit that this is by far not my most stable style of music. I can only play along with Jazz by ear, and not teach it. Thats why we have a special guest today, and that is Robert Ransley, a really fantastic Jazz and Blues guitarist who has been so kind as to lend us his expertise. With that, I'll turn this lesson over to the man himself - enjoy!

Pentatonic Scales (lesson 1)
(For any instrument)

Hi all,
My friend Tennyson asked me to do a series of lessons for GuitArticles So I thought I’d do some on the major pentatonic scale…what another pentatonic lesson??? Ahhhh…but did you know that you can make this versatile scale sound Phrygian, Lydian, altered dominant and on and on? Well, read on.
Have fun,

What you need to know to understand this article:
-What is a major interval; what is a minor interval.
-Definition of “tritone”.
-What makes a scale major; what makes a scale minor.
-Meaning of “alterations” and “extensions”.

When the word “pentatonic” is used it usually brings to mind rock or blues. The pentatonic scale has a lot of usage in the jazz idiom. Many people use the minor pentatonic scale not realizing that there is a major pentatonic scale that has multiple uses for soloing over different chords.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Where does the pentatonic scale come from? We’ll start with the C major scale for illustrative purposes keeping in mind that these examples should be transposed to all 12 keys.

Note: When you see the number of a scale degree by itself, it is understood that it is a major scale degree. In the case of minor scale degrees, I will place a small “m” before the number OR a “b” (flat, ex: b3 means minor 3rd) but that does not mean that the note is necessarily flat, it means it is lowered a half step. If the “b” (flat) is after the note, then the note is flat.

Example: In the following major scale the 3 is major so it is written just as a 3, the same with the 7th degree. However in the minor scale that is below, the 3rd scale degree is a minor 3rd so I’ll indicate it as m3 (or b3) and the 7th also as m7 (or b7). Perfect intervals will also be indicated as just the number)

Any major scale has 7 notes. Pentatonics have 5 notes so we have two too many. Here’s the rule: Remove the 4th and 7th degrees from any major scale and the result is a major pentatonic scale.

The 4th and 7th degrees form the tritone that is found in a major scale. A mathematical formula for this major pentatonic is: 1 2 3 5 6.

Remember how every major scale has a relative minor scale that starts on its 6th degree and shares the same key signature? That minor scale is called the Natural Minor scale and its mode name is Aeolian.

Guess what two notes we’re going to remove? The ones that make up the tritone. The same ones we took out of C major, B and F, in this scale they’re the 2nd and 6th degrees.

A mathematical formula for this minor pentatonic is: 1 3 4 5 7.
As you can see C maj pent and A min pent come from the same scale which is C major.

In lesson 2 we’ll start to see how to squeeze all the neat sounds out of this scale.

If you have questions please go to my blog: and leave them in any comment section. I’ll get them and answer you ASAP.

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