The major pentatonic scale is formed by a major triad with the addition of the 2nd and 6th of the major scale. You’ll be able to use it in major chords (whether they have the major seventh or minor seventh) but also on minor chords, let me explain why.

For each major key exists a relative minor which has the same alterations so for each major pentatonic correspond a minor pentatonic. Playing over a major or minor chord you can use them both interchangeably since, having all the notes in common, the minor pentatonic is essentially an inversion of the major pentatonic. It can be used in bass lines, riffs, fills and solos. 

Pentatonic Modes

Basic Exercises

Connecting Pentatonics 

When incorporating pentatonic scales into your music, especially for fills and phrases, a variety of pentatonic scales can be utilized over the same chord. Consider a GMaj7 chord: a G Major Pentatonic (G A B D E) is a go-to scale. However, you’re not limited to just this. Employing the relative minor, E Minor Pentatonic, introduces a bluesier essence, diverging from the major scale’s feel. Moreover, an array of pentatonic scales can be applied to add extensions or alterations to the chord.

Major, Minor, and Dominant Chords: Your Options

Major Chords – Enhancing GMaj7

For a GMaj7 chord, the G Major Pentatonic is a straightforward choice, but don’t overlook the D Major Pentatonic (D E F# A B), starting from the 5th, and the A Major Pentatonic (A B C# E F#) from the 2nd. These selections can transform the chord into a GMaj7#11, offering a Lydian mode’s richness.

Minor Chords – The GMin7 Possibilities

With a GMin7, a G Minor Pentatonic (G Bb C D F) fits perfectly. Yet, an A Minor Pentatonic (A C D E G) can bring forth a Dorian mode’s sound. Additionally, a D Minor Pentatonic (D F G A C) is another valuable choice.

Dominant Chords – G7’s Flexibility

Navigating a G7 chord, a G Major Pentatonic (G A B D E) is a traditional pick. But, exploring a Bb Major Pentatonic (Bb C D F G) introduces a bluesy vibe. An F Major Pentatonic (F G A C D) leans towards a Gsus sound, while an Ab Major Pentatonic (Ab Bb C Eb F) shifts the harmony to a G7b9.

Practical Application: Mixing Pentatonics

Let’s simplify the application with a diagram showcasing most pentatonic scales suitable for the three common chords. Experiment with these scales, blending them creatively in your fills and phrases. Some choices might sound more ‘outside’ than others, especially when played a whole or half step away from the tonal centre, known as ‘Outside Playing’. Remember, the goal is to seamlessly transition back to an ‘inside’ scale.

Mastering In/Out Playing

For inspiration and a deeper understanding of In/Out Pentatonic playing, immerse yourself in the works of McCoy Tyner on “The Real McCoy” and Chick Corea’s “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”. Their expertise in navigating between inside and outside playing with pentatonics is unparalleled.

Note on Pentatonics  

Every root note discussed corresponds to the Major Pentatonic shape. From this foundation, you’re encouraged to explore all other modes within the key, enriching your musical vocabulary and expression.

G Maj 7G, A, D – R, 2, 5B, E, F# – 3, 6, 7Ab, Bb, Db – b2, b3, b5
G Min 7Bb, C, F – b3, 4, b7Ab, Db, Eb – b2, b5, b6A, B, E – 2, 3, 6
G7G, Bb, C, F – R, b3, 4, b7Ab, Db, Eb – b2, b5, b6B, E, F# – 3, 6, 7

Practice Routine

Week One: Monday to Friday

  1. Pentatonic Shapes – Start by exploring the different shapes of the pentatonic scale.
  2. Pentatonic Applications – Learn how these shapes fit into different chords and the different options available.
  3. Pentatonic Patterns – Practice various patterns to build dexterity and familiarity.
  4. Pentatonic Fills – Learn fills and use them in your playing to add creativity.
  5. Practical Application – Take a groove you enjoy and apply all the concepts you’ve practiced throughout the week.
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