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Introduction to the Minor Pentatonic Scale


Probably the most commonly learned, practiced and used scale by guitarists of all genres is the Minor Pentatonic Scale. This scale is a must-know melodic device for guitarists exploring the world of improvised music, be it in the jazz genre or otherwise.

While many of us learn this scale when first checking out soloing techniques in genres such as rock, blues and pop, we often neglect this scale when it comes time to work on jazz guitar soloing techniques. The minor pentatonic scale can be an effective and fun way to bridge the gap between your rock and blues soloing ideas.

In this lesson you will learn how to build, play, practice and solo with the minor pentatonic scale in a jazz guitar setting.

 

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Minor Pentatonic Scale Construction

To begin, let’s take a look at the interval structure of the minor pentatonic scale so that you will have an understanding of how this popular scale is built from a theoretical standpoint.

The interval structure is as follows:

A Minor Pentatonic
 
A C D E G
1 b3 4 5 b7

 

As you can see, this scale has the b3 and b7 notes, along with the perfect intervals of the major scale, 1-4-5. Because of this, you can use this scale to outline minor chords, as well as bring a blues flavour to major-based chords in your soloing.

Here is how that scale looks on paper with the root-note A:

The minor pentatonic scale

 

Because it is so versatile, you can apply this scale to the following types of chords fairly easily in your soloing ideas.

  • Major Triads
  • Maj7 Chords
  • 7th Chords
  • Minor Triads
  • m7 Chords
  • And More

So, you can see that this scale can be used over the three chords that make up the ii V I progression, the most commonly used in jazz, and therefore it’s a great choice for soloing over these changes in your playing, as we’ll see later on in this lesson.

Minor Pentatonic Scale Fingerings

Now that you know the interval structure of this scale, let’s look at the five most common fingerings for the minor pentatonic scale on the guitar. Try learning one of these scale positions first, learning it in 12 keys around the fretboard, before moving on to the other four fingerings in your woodshedding:

 

The minor pentatonic scale chart 1

 

The minor pentatonic scale chart 2

 

The minor pentatonic scale chart 3

 

The minor pentatonic scale chart 4

 

The minor pentatonic scale chart 5

 

3 Minor Pentatonic Scale Patterns

As well as memorizing the fingerings in the previous section in order to add the Minor Pentatonic Scale to your jazz soloing repertoire, you can work on common melodic patterns through these scales in order to expand your vocabulary and gain soloing ideas at the same time.

To help you get some of these patterns under your fingers, here are three of our favorites that you can explore in the woodshed:

1) The first minor pentatonic pattern is built by playing every second note up the scale, so you play the root to the 4th, then the b3 to the 5th etc. as you work your way up the scale. Once you have this ascending pattern worked out, you can also practice it down the scale as you expand upon it in the practice room.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale pattern 1

 

2) This next scale pattern is a favourite of many modern jazz guitarists, and is built by playing up the “right side" of the scale, and then down the “left side" of the scale. When doing so, you create a snake-like pattern that winds it’s way through the scale.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale pattern 2

 

3) The last practice pattern that we’ll look at involves playing three notes on the “left side" of the scale, followed by three notes on the “right side" of the scale. Again, this is a modern sounding pattern that will not only aid your dexterity and knowledge of these fingerings, but will give you material that you can apply to your jazz guitar solos at the same time.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale pattern 3

 

As was the case with the five fingerings you learned in the last sections, you can put on an A7 or Am7 backing track and practice soloing over those chords using one or more of the patterns in this section of the lesson.

When soloing with these patterns, you can change the rhythms of each pattern, add some other notes from the scale, take notes away and add rests to the pattern etc. as you make the patterns more musical and less technical in your playing.

 

3 Minor Pentatonic Scale Licks

As well as practicing scale patterns with the Minor Pentatonic Scale, you can also learn common licks and phrases that you can work in 12 keys, and apply to your jazz guitar solos in a musical situation. Here are three famous minor pentatonic phrases that you can work on in your practice routine, and use to build solos in a jazz guitar context when applied to a musical situation:

 

1) The first lick, written over an A7 chord, features a common jazz rhythm in the first bar of the phrase. Playing a quarter note, followed by a series of descending 8th-notes after is something that many jazz guitarists use to begin their improvised lines when soloing.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale lick 1

 

2) The next minor pentatonic lick outlines the minor triad at the start of the phrase, A-C-E, which when played over an A7 chord creates a bluesy sound, as the C is the b3 (blues note) in this context.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale lick 2

 

3) The final lick that we’ll look at features ascending intervals (bar 2) that descend down the scale. This concept, of playing ascending notes but descending them through the scale, is a common pentatonic scale technique that many jazz guitarists use in their solos.

As well, you can see the A minor pentatonic scale in this phrase applied to a ii V I progression in the key of G, in this case over the last four bars of a G blues chord progression.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale lick 3

 

 

Minor Pentatonic Scale Sample Solo

As a wrap out for this introduction to the Minor Pentatonic Scale, let’s take a look at a sample solo over a G blues progression that uses the minor pentatonic scale to build each line in the solo.

 

Listen & Play

Minor pentatonic scale solo

 

As you can see, though sometimes we associate the minor pentatonic scale with blues and rock solos, you can quickly and easily translate this sound from your rock background (if that’s where you come from), into your jazz guitar soloing ideas.

 


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