OK folks, so here we are at the end of the line with this series. In Part One, we discussed Adding minor Modal Spices to your pentatonic box. In Part Two, we did Blues Sounds. So here, in Part Three, let's talk about Adding Major Tonalities. By the way, if you haven't checked out those previous entries, I suggest you do as some of those concepts are expanded on here.
Major Pentatonic? What the...?
I remember the first time I realized a player was using a Major pentatonic for soloing instead of the usual minor approach (I believe it was Lesley West on Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" if I am not mistaken). It absolutely blew my mind that if I use my pinky as the root, instead of my index finger, then the SAME scale suddenly became Major! DAMN! All of a sudden, in that instant, I doubled my scale knowledge. Before that moment, and the subsequent digging that followed, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Major pentatonic (this is what happens when a 12 year old self-teaches!).
So for those of you who are at this level, hopefully that same door just opened for you (make the cheque payable to Jer... : ).
Let's assume that we now all know that a Major scale and a minor scale are the same fingering, but in a different location. Let's move on to the point of this entry -- adding new sounds to that Major skeleton.
There are three Major modal shapes that can be used to create different sounds.
- Ionian (the I chord sound)
- Lydian (the IV chord sound)
- Mixolydian (the V chord sound)
If these terms are confusing to you, you may want to read my post on Interval ID (click here).
Download this chart I prepared and take a peek. At the top of the chart, you will see an unaltered Major pentatonic scale. I darkened the root note so you can see which note will be used to make it Major. For example, if you want to play A-Major Pentatonic, place your pinky on the 5th fret (A) of the low E-string and play the scale. This scale is the same exact fingering as F#min. Even though its the exact same fingering, the focus of the tonality shifts to the note 'A' as opposed to F#. If you play this A-Scale over an A-chord, you will hear a distinctly brighter or happier tonality. This is the vibe of the Major scale. Incidentally, country players typically use a pentatonic scale in its Major form. So if you are at a jam night or around a campfire, this little insight can be quite handy!
Referring to the chart again, below the unaltered form, there are three above-mentioned modal forms. I have colourized the added notes, so memorize the additions and apply at will.
The pentatonic Major works best over -- you guessed it -- Major chords... but it also works great on more ambiguous chords like dominants. A dominant chord, or (7) chord, has a Major 3rd like a Major chord, but a minor 7th like a minor chord. This is why dominant chords are frequently used in blues and jazz or any improvisation-based music. Over dominants, your scale choices for improvs are truly many because of this ambiguity. But I digress.
Adding to the pentatonic framework can be a very powerful and quick way to increase your knowledge of the neck. Once you have all three parts to this series down cold, you should have a large working palette of musical colours to choose from.
How Do I Practice This?
Set up a loop or a backing track and spend time with each and every scale form. Try to understand its distinct sounds and tonal colours. I think it is VERY important to form an opinion on them and find a way to catalog these sounds in your mind. This kind of 'mental tagging' can come in very handy when you are searching for a specific sound during an improvised solo. The more time you spend with each of them, the more natural they will sound when you use them.
Take each one of these forms, with their added notes, and apply it to the other five shapes of the pentatonic scale. Learn this form first, then move on each side of it, practicing the neighbouring shapes as you work outwards to one day mastering the entire neck. I would work on the ones to either side of this first form (so if this is form 1, then do form 2 and 5 first). Doing it this way allows you to apply it quicker.
With all these forms mastered, imagine the freedom this could bring to your playing. Better still, you won't be stuck in a box any longer. Take your old cliche licks and rework them with these new spices.
Good luck! Hit me up if you have questions or add comments below if you think something needs expanding.
Below are some samples of all scales covered in parts one to three. For the sake of consistency, even though it may not be the best choice for Major pentatonic application, I kept the same backing track on all takes. That's right. There is no "one size fits all" application for any of these. You must put in the time, then use your taste and judgement to determine when or when not to call for that sound. Have fun and pay me back by making some truly great music for us all!
Sixstringobsession files by Jeremy_green