Pentatonic & Blues Scales

Pentatonic & Blues Scales

Pentatonic scales are some of the most often used scales in improvisation.  Whether it’s jazz,  rock and roll, or country, these scales are used in every style.   They function well because they are simple and can fit over different types of chords.  There are two types of pentatonic scales, major pentatonic and minor pentatonic.  On this page I will show you the easiest way to derive major and minor pentatonic and blues scales from any major scale.

The  major pentatonic scale is 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 1, of the major scale.  These would be the notes for “C” major pentatonic:

C Major pentatonic scale

Every major key has a relative minor key, just like every major scale has it’s relative minor. An easy way to think of minor pentatonic scales is to play the same notes as the “C” major pentatonic, only change the tonal center to “A” (the relative minor of “C”).  These are the notes for “A” minor pentatonic.  The roman numerals are for the key of “A” major.

A Minor pentatonic scale

Finally, to derive the blues scale from the “A” minor pentatonic, you would just insert the flat 5 (Eb) into the “A” minor pentatonic scale.  These are the notes in the “A” blues scale:

A Blues scale

If you want to derive the “C” minor pentatonic scale from a “C” major scale, the numbers would be:

C Minor pentatonic scale

If you want to find the “C” blues scale from a “C” major scale, the numbers would be

C Blues scale

So, if you are playing “Blues in C,” this is the formula to find the correct scale.

Major Pentatonic Scales

Start and end these scales at the red letter and you will be playing the relative minor pentatonic scale.  Cool, huh?

That’s it!  Just five and six note scales can be a very good addition to your vocabulary.  Lots of players have used this approach to a very successful end. Players like David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Grover Washington Jr., Chris Potter, Jerry Bergonzi and John Coltrane, to name just a few.   You can use the C major pentatonic over a C major chord – C6 – Cmaj7 – Cmaj9, or a dominant chord – C7 – C9 – C11 – C13.  Use the A minor pentatonic over an A minor chord – Amin – Amin7 – Amin9.  Use the A blues scale over an A dominant chord, – A7 – A9 – A11, or Amin chords, Amin, Amin7, Amin9.  Of course, you can play the blues scale exclusively over the blues form, if you’re in the key of “A”, you would use the “A” blues scale.  However, unless you can really get down and honk on that blues scale, it would be a good idea to try to use all of these scales in the blues to make your solo more interesting….  at least until the point where you can really get down and honk!

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