Pentatonic scales frequently are criticised and thought of as purely for beginners, with some advanced players considering it beneath them. And yet they have a wealth of possibilities that open up improvisational skills that bridge the gap from the basics to chromatic note choices.
The starting point is probably the source of these issues, with the minor pentatonic being one of the first scales to learn. Once you have it, you now play a solo using it and produce something that you struggle to make sound good. It is not the scale’s fault, but it is the fault of a lack of demonstrating how to use it correctly, note choice, expressive techniques, sequences, intervallic sequences, and letting the music breath, all of which make you sound good improvising.
This blog is about the actual scale and its practical use to develop your understanding of how the notes you play fit into the chords.
Keeping it simple, songs are in a Major or Minor key. The chords correspond to this key throughout the song. Let us choose Major and play the Major Pentatonic over this chord progression. Sounds OK but doesn’t always fit well, and this is due to the chords changing underneath. To develop our musical understanding, we should change the Pentatonic scale we play according to the chord currently being played. The very act of doing this starts the focus of the chord tones, changing tonal centres and the notes we should play over which chord.
Far easier a concept to understand than to achieve in practice, this one step takes a lot of work in understanding chord progressions, understanding where the notes on the neck lie and the knowledge of the minor and major pentatonic scales all over the neck.
The following steps combine the pentatonic scales with the key’s Major or Minor pentatonic scale. We are getting to this stage and now playing in modes of the original key without having to learn them thoroughly. (In fact, it is easier to learn modes from here as the application is already in place)
Basics covered, we move onto the minor’s and compensate for the alteration of the V chord from Minor to Major. Start to include the Dominant Pentatonic and the Half Diminished pentatonic, and we are getting into fairly advanced territory.