Superimposing Pentatonics

by Emir Hot

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  • Hi

    Here is an example of how you can use many different minor/major pentatonic scales in an interesting way over a various chord progressions. I learned this great approach from my teacher Shaun Baxter when I was a student at "Guitar Institute" in London.

    This approach is called 'up a 5th principle'. To understand how this works let's look at this example.

    If we take a Cmaj7 chord we can play the Lydian scale. The C major pentatonic is part of C Lydian scale which means that we can safely improvise using C major pentatonic over Cmaj7 chord. This pentatonic scale leaves out two notes of Lydian scale (maj 7th and the #4th). This #4 is the strongest note within the Lydian mode.

    - C Lydian = 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 or C, D, E, F#, G, A, B

    - C major pentatonic = 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 or C, D, E, G, A

    In order to bring the 'missing' notes back into play (F# and B) we can use the 'up a 5th' pentatonic scale, and again another 'up a 5th' pentatonic scale counting from the previous one. That would be G major pentatonic and the D major pentatonic.

    - G major pentatonic 'up a 5th from C major pentatonic' = G, A, B, D, E which is 5th, 6th, 7th, 2nd and 3rd of C

    - D major pentatonic 'up a 5th from G major pentatonic' = D, E, F#, A, B which is 2nd, 3rd, #4th, 6th and 7th of C

    The same principle works over minor pentatonic. If we take Cm7 chord, we can use C dorian scale.

    - C Dorian = 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7 or C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb

    The C minor pentatonic exists within C Dorian

    - C minor pentatonic = 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 or C, Eb, F, G, Bb

    This pentatonic scale leaves out two notes of Dorian (2nd and 6th or D and A). Of these the 6th is the strongest sounding note. We can again use 'up a 5th' minor pentatonic scales (which exist within C dorian) to bring back the missing notes. Here they are:

    - G minor pentatonic 'up a 5th from C minor pentatonic' = G, Bb, C, D, F which is 5th, b7th, 1, 2nd, and 4th of C

    - D minor pentatonic 'up a 5th from G minor pentatonic' = D, F, G, A, C which is 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 1 of C

    The sound becomes more extended (dissonant) each time pentatonic scale is moved up a 5th.

    This principle also work over a dominant 7th chord. With this chord we can start with major pentatonic from the flattened 7th and then move up a 5th from there.

    So over C7 it would be

    - Bbmaj pentatonic (basic sound),
    - Fmaj pentatonic 'up a 5th from Bbmaj' (introduces 6th)
    - Cmaj pentatonic 'up a 5th from Fmaj' (introduces 6th and 3rd)

    This piece of music has all minor, major and dominant chords so the possible pentatonic options are written in the table below. Notice that the first time over G13 chord I play D major pentatonic. That one is 'three fifths up from the starting point'. It also works as G13 chord is as extended as it can be (9, 11, 13) and this scale produces (F# or maj7) against the chord which still sounds acceptable as it is the part of a strong unit (Dmaj pent).

    Have fun :)



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