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Chris Spencer >> Evolution of Jazz Guitar >>
guest teacher - Chris Spencer

ChrisS: Welcome to the last week of Jazz Guitar, This week we will be wrapping up with an in-depth look at pentatonic scales and their application. Most of us are very familiar with the standard major and minor pentatonic, but there are several others available. We will take a look at how the scale is constructed and how to apply it over chord changes.

ChrisS: Lets get crankin...  Why practice pentatonic scales? You will find that they usually lay pretty well on the fingerboard for one. So it is a quick and easy way to navigate your way through a set of chord changes. Also, a pentatonic scale is a little more concise in regards to harmony than a regular seven-note scale. In many cases, seven-note scales contain "avoid notes" or notes that should only be used as a passing tone (the 4th degree in a major scale is an avoid note when playing a maj7 chord). Pentatonics on the other hand don't usually have this restriction, so all the notes are fair game at any point. Furthermore, the major and minor pentatonic scales are everywhere! You can find them in everybody's solos, the melodies to pop, jazz, rock, country, blues, you name it

Steve: what maj7 chord?

ChrisS: There is an avoid note when you play a major scale ...over a maj 7 chord. that note is the 4th degree... in the key of C, it would be an F. Pentatonic scales are simply 5 note scales. Since these have fewer notes than a major scale, you want to pick the five notes that really define the chord sound. Here's the two basic pentatonics, major and minor:

ChrisS: here is a jam to work on these...

ChrisS: Major pentatonic: 1,2,3,5,6, that means that you are playing only those scale tones when you play a major pentatonic.  Minor pentatonic: 1,b3,4,5,b7 Is everybody familiar with these shapes?

Ted: very much so

Steve: yep

ChrisS: thought so...Actually, we can boil this down to one basic scale. Notice that the same notes are in both the C major pentatonic and the A minor pentatonic. It's actually the same scale we simply move the root around. So C minor pentatonic has the same notes as Eb major pentatonic.

MB: Natural Minor

ChrisS: Right MB! If we take this one step further we can add more color to the chords. For instance, if we want to use a pentatonic over a dominant seventh chord like C7 we could use the C major pentatonic. However, the b7 scale degree in a dominant seventh chord is pretty significant and the C major pentatonic doesn't include that note. So we substitute the b7 for the sixth.

ChrisS: Here is a pentatonic for a dominant seventh chord.

ChrisS: Use sound clip 2 to check out the mixo pentatonic.

Steve: can you use 6th and b7?

ChrisS: Yes, but then you have left the realm of 5 note scales.

Steve: ok, so mixolydian can be pentatonic also

ChrisS: yes thats right. In fact you will see that you can make a pentatonic work over any chord if you make the right changes. Here is a lick for you to try.

ChrisS: Its kind of tricky, you have learn to roll your fingers. If it is real easy, speed it up a bit until it is a challenge. The same idea would apply to other chords. For a minor 6th pentatonic we substitute a b3 into a regular major pentatonic.

Steve: why does that C mixo pent scale not contain the root note?

ChrisS: Well we have to eliminate something in order to keep it a pentatonic. So we get rid of the root, If you think about it, the root is probably already being played somewhere within the rhythm section.

MB: I was just wondering the same thing.

ChrisS: So it isn't as necessary and doesn't contribute to defining the chord sound.

ChrisS: lets look at the min 6 stuff. Here is a minor 6 pentatonic and jam track.

ChrisS: Minor 6 pentatonic: 1,2,b3,5,6, Notice that we altered a major pentatonic to get to a minor, it just works out to be easier that way. Now lets look at some more interesting chord sounds using a similar approach. A common chord in jazz is the half-diminished, also known as the "minor seventh with a flatted fifth" [minor7(b5)]. If we take the ordinary minor pentatonic and lower that 5th by half a step, it will work just fine. Here is the half diminished pentatonic.

ChrisS: ...and a looping sound clip.

ChrisS: Lets look at this Cm7b5 pentatonic, Minor 7(b5) pentatonic: 1,b3,4,b5,b7, So we took a regular minor pentatonic and flatted the fifth to get a very interesting sound.

Steve: is Cm7b5 the same as half diminished scale?

ChrisS: Yup, you got it.

ChrisS: How about an altered pentatonic..? Well, in order to get the altered notes in, you have to make sacrifices.

Ted: what are the chords for that last looping clip?

ChrisS: just a min7b5 in a couple different inversions. so back to the altered chord pentatonics...  If you throw out the root you can get something like this:

ChrisS: so here's an altered pentatonic with a jam loop.

ChrisS: Altered dominant pentatonic: b9,#9,3,b13,b7 or: b2,b3,3,b6,b7, The first description is theoretically more correct, although you may want to look at the second description to put things in perspective. This pentatonic is coming out of the altered dominant scale borrowed from melodic minor.  Now you might be thinking that this would be way to difficult to remember while you are soloing. Here's a much easier way of looking at both the half-diminished and altered dominant pentatonics. Remember the minor 6 pentatonic scale a couple examples ago? Well lets look at that scale from some different perspectives. Just like we extracted the minor pentatonic from the major pentatonic we can derive the half-diminished and altered pentatonics from the minor 6 pentatonic. If we move the root to the last note in the scale (the sixth degree) we have a half-diminished or min7(b5) sound. For example, the C minor 6 pentatonic you just learned has an A for its sixth degree. That means that the C minor 6 pentatonic is the same as an Amin7(b5) pentatonic. So if we apply this to the C-7(b5) that you just learned, it would be the same as Eb-6. Now lets move the root to a note outside of the five-note scale (I know this is a stretch, but believe me, it will be worth the effort!).  If we move the root down a halfstep to what would be the seventh degree, we have the altered dominant sound that we just covered. So the C minor 6 pentatonic is the same as a B7alt pentatonic. If you can memorize these two transpositions you will find they work together over a minor II -V progression. Lets put this into context, here is an incredibly common chord progression: D-7(b5) - G7alt - Cmin, D-7(b5) = F-6 pentatonic G7alt = Ab-6 pentatonic Cmin = C-6 pentatonic. We can apply a minor 6 pentatonic shape to all three of those chords. They have different roots, but because we are guitarists it's not a problem. We just slide the same shape around the neck. Listen to the opening clip again, it has minor 6 pentatonics all over it. If you get this stuff happening, it will open up a world of ideas for you.

BT: how often do you use pentatonics in your playing

ChrisS: Quite a bit...BT.

Ted: would you say you mostly use pentatonics, or full 8 note scales?

ChrisS: Definitely a mix....

LR: Do most jazz musician's know this stuff or do they play by ear?

ChrisS: LR: Well, I think most of the guys that play this type of harmony have studied it, gotten it under their fingers, and then let their ears do the leading.

LR: even in the early days of jazz?

ChrisS: In the early days the harmony wasn't at this level. So they were playing more melodically with their ear instead of their brain.

BT: when did they start to use this?

ChrisS: It really started to emerge after the Bebop era, late fifties early sixties. Here are some other pentatonics that you may find useful. Unfortunately, we can't relate them directly to another pentatonic.

ChrisS: here's another dominant 7th pentatonic. This one has a #11. Notice that this one also has no root. Dominant 7 #11 pentatonic: 9, 3, #11, 13, b7 or 2,3,#4, 6, b7. Here's another altered dominant pentatonic...

ChrisS: Dominant 7 (b9) pentatonic: b9,#9,3,13,b7. This one is almost the same as the altered dominant that you learned earlier. It has a natural 13 instead of a flatted 13. It is tough to play, but sounds great once you get it under your fingers.  And that's about it folks. thanks everybody!

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