The Pentatonic Scale is an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Or maybe that’s a lightsaber. But pentatonics are kind of a lightsaber for guitarists. They cut through anything. Although there are only five forms instead of seven. Ok, never mind. Geeking out too much…
The minor pentatonic scale is one of the first scales every guitarist learns. If you’re not familiar with them yet, please read this lesson first. That will give you the overview and basic patterns.
This lesson is going to show you how to take that simple little box pattern and create some crazy, off the wall sounds with it. All without learning a bunch of new patterns or jargon.
We’ll use the standard minor pentatonic box for our examples here. Of course, it works in any of the different patterns or positions you can play it in.
The most obvious use for a minor pentatonic is over a minor chord. You can’t go wrong there. But if you’re playing anything bluesy, you can also play it over a major or dominant 7th chord, like and A7.
Theoretically that’s against the rules, (Screw the rules!!) because you’d be playing a C natural in the scale against a C# in the chord. However, that tension between the two notes is what helps create that blues sound.
To go a little deeper into that idea, there are 3 reasons why that sound works…
1. The b3 (C natural in our example) can be reinterpreted as a #9, further altering your dominant 7th chord.
2. It’s an attempt at mimicking traditional African sounds with western instruments.
3. It just sounds cool, so who cares why…
I like #3 personally. 🙂
But let’s get to some cool easy pentatonic scale tricks that can create some way-out sounds and textures. These are valid from a music theory standpoint. Whether they’re valid musically is up to you, your guitar, your ears, and your neighbors’ ears.
For these examples, play the scale over a G major chord. To find out how to use if over other chords, check out the interval between the scale root and the chord root.
1. Use the pentatonic minor a tritone away from the major chord. So if we’re playing over G major, use a C# pentatonic minor scale. Why it works: It adds to the chord a b5 (C#), major 7th (F#), and b2 (G#). Not for the faint of musical heart, but a very cool, outside sound.
2. Use the pentatonic minor a major 3rd above your chord root. B minor pent over a G major chord. Why it works: It adds the major 7th (F#) and 9th (A) to the chord.
3. Use the minor pentatonic a half step below the chord. F# minor over the G major chord. Why it works: It adds the major 7th and 9th like the previous one, but also the cool b5 (C#).
4. Use the pentatonic minor a half step above your chord. This is a fantastic sound for running off wild animals or interrogating war criminals. Why it works: This rough customer adds the b2 (Ab), b5 (Db), #5 (D#), and major 7th (F#). “Pretty” ain’t the word for it. But it can be useful when you need really dissonant, outside stuff.
5. Use the pentatonic minor a whole step below your chord. Why it works: This gives you the cool bluesy extensions of minor 7 (F), minor 3rd (Bb), minor 6th (Eb), and the very Phrygian-sounding b2 (Ab)
6. Use the pentatonic minor a whole step above your chord. Why it works: Gives you the 9th (A) and a crazy suspended feel on the C.
Can you use more than one? Hell yeah, ya can. You could go from heaven to hell in a heartbeat with these things. Try them out and see which ones you like and start throwing them into your solos and impressing your guitar playing friends with your new advanced sense of harmony. 🙂
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