iBreatheMusic.com Online Music Lessons
  The Pulse - iBreatheMusic's official newsletter
Online Articles: 188
Article Browser
Forum Members 26,129
Join Us - Take Part
Pulse Subscribers 2046
The Pulse Archive

Improvisation Tools: Pentatonic

This is the first of a series of articles to familiarize you with the basic tools used in improvisation. In order to get the most out of this article I highly recommend that you have at least some experience in improvising.

The series "Improvisation Tools" does not attempt to be a prescriptive method that specifies exactly how you should apply a particular tool to a specific chord or give you exact practicing schedules. Rather, they are intended to show you some ideas on how to approach and practice these tools.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or complaints please feel free to post them in the iBretheMusic forums. I hope that this article is helpful and that you have fun studying it.

So what's the big deal ? Why are Pentatonics so important to us guitar players ?

A few considerations:
  • Pentatonic has it's distinctive sound, i.e. its intervallic structure gives a certain mood that you are familiar with by listening to Rock, Pop, Blues, Country, Jazz , etc.
  • Pentatonic fits perfectly on the guitar. When we talk about the 5 guitar patterns you will see that there are always 2 notes on a string that makes them easy to locate on the guitar and favors technique.
  • Pentatonic is an easy tool for incorporating guitar specific effects like bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs.
  • Best of all is that Pentatonic goes along with the guitarist's desire for blowing over diatonic chord changes.
Don't get me wrong: all other tools like triads, arpeggios and scales are very important, but can easily cause problems, e.g. scales tend to be played up and down resulting in a tired, non-musical performance.

Before we start I would like to mention the time factor. Don't expect to master all this in a few weeks. Take your time with exploring things. If you have the feeling that you are not up to a topic or do not like to do it, just skip it for now and come back in one year.

What is this Pentatonic Thing?

Penta means five. So all pentatonic scales are 5 note groupings. Although there are many different pentatonic scales we generally refer to pentatonic as what is known as Major Pentatonic (at least in the West). The 5 notes are derived by stacking intervals of a perfect fifth starting on the root.

Rearranged within one octave:

What you get is a C major triad with added major second and major sixth. The correct chord symbol is C69. (Don't be discouraged if you have no clue regarding what I'm taking about. For the purpose of this article, chord symbol knowledge is irrelevant.)

Now we arrange those notes starting from the note A. We are looking at the relative Minor Pentatonic to C Major. (A minor is the relative minor to C major because it has the same key signature and therefore the same scale notes.)

The result is a Am7 chord with added Perfect Fourth. The correct chord symbol is Am711.

As a result we realize that C major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic consist of the same notes and therefore are the same. To unnecessarily complicate things, musicians decide themselves whether they want to think in major or minor. It's up to you and depends on your experience with pentatonics. I encourage you to do a little research to find out what is the right way for you.

In my case pentatonics are all minor. (When I was a teen I wanted to sound dark and angry. I did not need the happy major sound because there was only one chord for being dark and that's E minor. Sounds familiar ?)
Seriously, there is no wrong or right although I encountered a slight advantage by thinking in minor.

Five Pentatonic Patterns >>