Mighty Pentatonic

I’ve seen all kinds of explanations as to why the minor scale sounds good, actually great, over a major chord - but to reverse that and play a major scale over a minor chord certainly does not. Common sense dictates that a minor chord should require a minor scale. A major chord therefore requires a major scale. 

Let us only consider pentatonic scales for this discussion and let us remind ourselves that scales and chord tones utilize precisely the same notes - just arranged differently. If you begin to think of chords as scales and scales as chords it makes the melodic targeting of chord tones in your solo work more effective much sooner. So if your head begins to spin when you see such chords as A7#9 or A11#9 let me tell you - you already not only know how to do it… you are probably well on your way to mastery.

What you must begin to do is think of your pentatonic tones and chords tones as being shared by all the members of your band. What is the total harmony being expressed when you add the entire band’s notes into the hat for each chord. Or when you play the A minor pentatonic while woodshedding, always remind yourself that you are playing over an A major chord.

So this is how it works and is the best explanation of why a minor pentatonic sounds great over a major chord. In fact, is this not Rock n Roll and Blues? Here goes… 

An A major chord consists of three notes: A C# E 

An A minor pentatonic scale consists of five tones: A C D E G 

The two tones common to each are the A and the E - the Root and the 5th. Emphasized most directly by the bass player. 

The A chord 

A is the Root 

C# is the major 3rd 

E is the 5th 

Left over notes from A minor pentatonic 

The C is the #9 

The D is the 11th 

The G is the -7th 

In a band situation the bass re-enforces the A and the E 

The rhythm guitar/keys plays the A major chord 

You play the A minor pentatonic  

A  C  D  E  G 

R #9 11  5  -7 

The audience is hearing ALL these notes that when combined create an A11#9 chord sound.

A  C  C# D  E  G 

 R #9  3  11  5  -7 

Remember that the #9 is identical to the minor 3rd. 

And of course you can bend the snot out of the D note, the 11th note. Up a 1/2 step for a blue note and up to a 5th which always sounds rock stellar. 

Let’s take this one step further to give you the basic blues rock hybrid scale - one of my favorites I use to this day. In this pentatonic scale you play both the #9 (which is the -3rd) and the major 3rd. It looks like this:

A  C  C#  E  G. 

 R -3   3   5  -7

Move this solo shape around the neck - especially to D as a root and then E as a root. Congratulations... go to a blues jam! 

The advantage to using both the minor 3rd and the major 3rd is that they sound great over a power chord - or if you do not have the luxury of a rhythm player. It gives you a more full chord sound in your solos. Plus you can bend the minor 3rd up just a little for that blue note half way between the two 3rds or all the way up to the major 3rd. Let your ears be the judge. And of course you can throw in the very bendable 11th (D). 

I will be greatly expanding on this concept of “dividing up the chord/scales” between the players -  and also practice strategies to rehearse this on your own. So check back often or give me your email and I’ll notify you as I post and answer any questions you have. This concept and dynamics were the bedrock of Product Development when I managed Bands for Plaza III Talent.

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