As many guitarists begin playing rock, blues, and pop music before exploring jazz, one of the first scales we have under our fingers are the various positions of the major and minor pentatonic scales. To help you translate these commonly used scales to a jazz context, here are 5 jazz pentatonic scale patterns that you can work on in the woodshed as you bring your pentatonic knowledge into the jazz realm.
While the examples in this lesson are applied to the first position of a minor pentatonic scale, any of these patterns can be applied to any position of any guitar scale that you know or are working on in the practice room.
While each pattern in this lesson is written in ascending order only, you can also practice these patterns descending on any pentatonic scale that you apply them to.
Pentatonic Scale Patterns 1 – 123
The first pattern consists of a 3-note grouping that you play from each note in the scale. When doing so, you produce a 123, 234, 345, etc. pattern as you ascend the scale with this three-note shape.
As was noted in the intro, make sure to work this, and any, pattern ascending and descending the scale as you expand upon it further in your jazz guitar practice routine.
Pentatonic Scale Patterns 2 – Left vs. Right 1
The next scale pattern is based on the left vs. right nature of any pentatonic scale shape. When you play the pentatonic scale using two notes per string, you have a left side of the scale (the notes closest to the nut) and a right side of the scale (the notes closest to the pickups).
You can use this construction to your advantage when working on pentatonic scale patterns by playing two notes on the left side of the scale followed by two notes on the right side.
When doing so, you are emphasizing a lot of 4th intervals within the scale, which produces a modern sounding pattern as you ascend and descend the scale in your practicing and jazz guitar soloing ideas.
Pentatonic Scale Patterns 3 – Left vs. Right 2
You can also play 3 notes on each side of the scale, as you can see and hear in the next scale pattern.
When playing this pentatonic scale pattern, make sure that you make three-note group connected, yet don’t let them ring so much that they sound like a chord being strummed.
Aim for connected, yet not overlapping, sounds when playing each of these three-note shapes on either side of the pentatonic scale in your practice and soloing ideas based on this pattern.
Pentatonic Scale Patterns 4 – Enclosures
There are many variations of the enclosure in jazz, but the one we’ll focus on uses one fret above, one fret below, and then the target note from the scale.
When applying enclosures to the minor pentatonic scale, as you can hear in the example below, there is an outside/tense sound that is created with the two chromatic notes, which are then resolved into each note in the underlying scale.
Pentatonic Scale Patterns 5 – Side Stepping
The final pattern comes from a concept commonly used by saxophonist John Coltrane, among others, and it is called side-stepping.
This technique uses two pentatonic scales, your tonic scale and one a fret higher, to build an “inside-outside” or “tension and release” sound in your practicing and soloing ideas.
In this example, you will play 4 notes from the A minor pentatonic scale, followed by 4 notes from the Bb minor pentatonic scale, alternating between these two scales as you ascend all six strings on the fretboard.
This pattern can be a bit dissonant for some players, but give it a try as you might be surprised at how quickly your ears will adjust and this type of slippery, outside sound becomes normal in both your technical and improvisational patterns.
After you have worked on these scale patterns, try putting on a backing track and soloing over that track using one or more of these patterns as the basis for your improvised lines.
Scale patterns are a great way to learn new scales, develop your technique on the guitar, as well as provide you material that you can apply to your jazz guitar solos at the same time.