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Lesson 8: The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

This is a C minor pentatonic scale:
The minor pentatonic scale can be used in very sophisticated ways.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale and Harmony

Obvious ways to use the minor pentatonic scale are:

  • C(maj7) - A minor pentatonic
  • Dm7 - D minor pentatonic
  • G7 - E minor pentatonic

More sophisticated ways to use the minor pentatonic scale are:

  • Cmaj7 - E or B minor pentatonic
  • Dm7 - A or E minor pentatonic
  • G7 - D, F or Bb minor pentatonic

Examples

Listen to the following tunes:

  • Beatrice by Sam Rivers
  • Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock
  • Chameleon by Herbie Hancock
  • Don't Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
  • E.S.P. by Wayne Shorter
  • Hollow Talk by Choir of Young Believers
  • Last Train Home by Pat Metheny
  • Li'l Darlin' by Neal Hefti
  • Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Joe Zawinul
  • Mr. C by Max Schultz
  • Pack Up by Eliza Doolittle
  • Sonnymoon for Two by Sonny Rollins
  • Sunny by Bobby Hebb

Using the Minor Pentatonic Scale for Playing over Vamps

Some vamps that you can play a C minor pentatonic scale over:

  • Cm7 - Dbmaj7
  • Dbmaj9- Cm9
  • Cm7 - Bbm7
  • Ebmaj7-Dbmaj7
  • Abmaj7-Dbmaj7#11
  • C -Ebmaj7-Abmaj7-Dbmaj7#11

Using Minor Pentatonic Scales for Playing on II-V-I's

We've been into this in lesson 6. There's nothing wrong with repetition, though, so here goes:

Let's look at the progression Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7 again. An easy way to use a minor pentatonic scale is to use the E minor pentatonic scale over the whole progression.

Other ways to use minor pentatonic scales are:
Dm7 - D minor pentatonic, G7 - D minor pentatonic, Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic
Dm7 - D minor pentatonic, G7 - F minor pentatonic, Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic
Dm7 - A minor pentatonic, G7 - D minor pentatonic, Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic
Dm7 - A minor pentatonic, G7 - Bb minor pentatonic, Cmaj7 - B minor pentatonic
Dm7 - E minor pentatonic, G7 - F minor pentatonic, Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic

I have written out simple examples of the two latter. Try them out and you'll get the idea. The pentatonic scale used is indicated in the parenthesis after the chord symbol. You should of course try to develop more interesting lines than this, by trying not to just run the scales up and down.

Using Minor Pentatonic Scales for Playing on Turn-Arounds

We've been into this in lesson 7. There's nothing wrong with repetition, though, so here goes:

Let's look at the turn-around Cmaj7 - A7 - Dm7 - G7 again. An easy way to use a minor pentatonic scale is to use the E minor pentatonic scale over the whole progression.

Other ways to use minor pentatonic scales are:
Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic, A7 - E minor pentatonic, Dm7 - A minor pentatonic, G7 - D minor pentatonic
Cmaj7 - B minor pentatonic, A7 - C minor pentatonic, Dm7 - A minor pentatonic, G7 - Bb minor pentatonic
Cmaj7 - A minor pentatonic, A7 - C minor pentatonic, Dm7 - A minor pentatonic, G7 - Bb minor pentatonic
Cmaj7 - E minor pentatonic, A7 - G minor pentatonic, Dm7 - E minor pentatonic, G7 - F minor pentatonic

I have written out simple examples of the two latter. Try them out and you'll get the idea. The pentatonic scale used is indicated in the parenthesis after the chord symbol. You should of course try to develop more interesting lines than this, by trying not to just run the scales up and down.

Other Ways to Use Minor Pentatonic Scales

Check out lesson 20 for a scale choices chart for my tune Stockholm. There minor pentatonic scales are put to use once again and in the C part they are used in a new way. The changes of the C part of Stockholm are:

|Em9   |      |Eb9   |D7#9  |
|Gm9   |      |Gb9   |Fm7Bb7|
|Ebmaj7|      |Fm9   |Bb13  |
Minor pentatonic scales can be used throughout this part in the following way:
Em9 - B minor pentatonic, Eb9 - C minor pentatonic, D7#9 - D minor pentatonic,
Gm9 - D minor pentatonic, Gb9 - Eb minor pentatonic, Fm7 - Bb7 - Ebmaj7 - G minor pentatonic

Practicing the Minor Pentatonic Scale

There's something about the minor pentatonic scale that makes you easily fall into the habit of running it up and down. Try the following exercises using the E minor pentatonic scale mostly in fourths and fifths which may help you break out of this habit:

2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.