Advanced Pentatonic Lessons Introduction


Hmmm, Advanced Pentatonic Scales…

  It’s been a standard for years for guitarist to learn a few chords, learn some chord progressions/songs, then learn the Minor/Blues Pentatonic Scale…and then, just be able to solo at will.

Well, many players find out that knowing these few notes does create a lot of excitement at first, but that excitement dissipates into ruts, repeating themselves too much, and just plain no where else to go.

But, in the meantime you’re hearing albums and albums worth of great players who primarily use theses Pentatonic scales, and can just keep creating and creating.

Well, some of us stay in the rut and either give up or we try and branch out into theory because there has to be some magical sentence out there you’re going to find that is going to tie everything together.

Well, there is no magical sentence, and the only way for you to grab onto something is to either be taught, which doesn’t always work, or for you to visualize with your eyes and ears what all these notes really mean.

I started with the Minor/Blues Scale as many of other people have. Then my quest led me to Modes, which lead me to building chords from a scale, or key. But, you know what…none of that helped me with the Pentatonic scales…I was still playing my old favorite/standard blues licks, and having difficulties learning others solo’s to unlock the magic.

So, by this time I had the Minor/Blues and Major Pentatonic scales, and all the Diatonic Modes, some Exotic scales, and knew a bunch of chords and how they were built.

One day something clicked…why does a Minor Pentatonic scale fit over a Major chord? (such as a playing the Blues scale over a I-IV-V progression). All these chords were Major chords but, I was playing Minor scales over them, and it worked. How was this possible.

So, now with my background in theory I ventured out to see what each of the scales notes was in relation to the chord I was playing. I realized that a Minor Pentatonic Scale was actually made up of:

1 b3 4 5 b7 1 (or, root, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 7, root) in relation to the root of the chord I was playing the scale over.

(b or "flat", minor, and m can be used interchangeably, IOW b3 can be termed as either a b3, flat 3, minor 3, or m3 they all mean the same thing AND :::::both M3 or Major3 mean a Major 3rd. If you need more on this, let me know)

Now came my first dilemma, or epiphany if you will…that most every time I played the b3 I was actually giving it a slight bend, trying to force or resolve it to the M3 (Major third). And, since the M3 was a note contained in the Major chord I was playing the b3 against…it only make sense why I was doing the little bend.  I was making the scale “fit” the chord.

And, it made sense why Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and others were doing the same thing.

So, with this I realized that the b3 was a passing-tone to the Major 3rd to resolve the note back into the chord. Since the b3 and M3 are a half-step from each other you end up with a half-step clash of notes just wanting to resolve.

With this dilemma I also wondered why...if playing a major chord why does it make sense to play the Minor Pentatonic, as opposed to the Major Pentatonic? The Major Pentatonic also sounded good, but it was more of a “Do re mi” type sound. But, it fit over the Major chord just fine also.

The Major Pentatonic scale consists of: root M2 M3 P5 M6 root

So I wrote out both of the scales on a piece of paper over a fretboard diagram, individually and on top of each other, or super-imposed them, onto one fretboard.

Written this way I saw these intervals in relation to the root:

  Root M2 m3 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7 Root in relation to the root of the Major chord I was playing.

What opened my eyes even further was when I took the Blues and Major Pentatonic scales and super-imposed them. This gave a bunch of chromatic possibilities. I ended up with these intervals:

Root M2 m3 M3 P4 b5 P5 M6 m7 Root

I realized that there were common notes between the two scales. They were: root and P5. So, this gave me some sense of a common between the two scales.

But, the big thing I realized was the chromatic notes I could now see with the M2 m3 M3 P4 b5 P5.

But I also noticed that if I play those chromatic notes in order ascending and descending they really did nothing for my playing or my musical vocabulary. Neither did playing the whole super-imposed scale straight up and down. It just didn’t sound musical OR riff based.

So, I had to figure out how to mesh this bigger super-imposed scale into my playing. It had to mean something.

What I did was I started playing each of the scales individually listening to what each scale was saying to me and the chord.

What I found was the Blues scale gave me the “gritty digging-in” sound against the chord, almost rebellious. But, the Major Pentatonic catered to the chord better. It seemed to “outline” the chord better. More “Do Ra Mi” than rebellion.

Two completely different textures, against the same chord.

So, now I would consciously try playing solo’s that jumped between the two scales and see if I could “talk” in both scales simultaneously. It didn’t sound great at first but both scales did fit the question.

The question was, how do I intermingle the scales and use them as one scale as opposed to two.

The key lied in the chromatic notes.

These notes were so close to each other that I should try using them to shift between the two scales without it sounding like I was playing one scale and THEN the other.

As I did this I tried applying it to solo’s I was trying to learn by my guitar heroes. I found The Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Page, Beck, Clapton, Berry, Richards, Van Halen, Ronson, Morse, and just about everyone I listened to was playing not one scale…but two or more scales.

Sweet! Now I could learn on my own AND have some guidance from the Masters.

Now I was ready to dig in even deeper.

I found that with this super-imposed scale that it not only contained the Minor and Major Pentatonic scales and the Blues scale…but it also contained the Dorian and Mixolydian modes.

Bingo. All the articles I read up to this point now made sense when guitarist said they would play Pentatonics, Blues, Dorian, and Mixolydian…they were actually playing the super-imposed scale that I had discovered for myself. Maybe they thought of them as individual scales...but, by this time was I thinking of them as one scale. Here’s the break down of the scale intervals contained in this super-imposed scale:


Minor Pentatonic: R b3 4 5 b7 R

Major Pentatonic: R M2 M3 5 M6 R

Blues Scale: R b3 4 b5 5 b7 R

Dorian: R M2 b3 4 5 M6 b7 R

Mixolydian: R M2 M3 4 5 M6 b7 R


Super-Imposed Scale: R M2 b3 M3 4 b5 5 M6 b7 R


I also realized that the Super-Imposed scale was almost a complete chromatic scale, minus the b2 b6 and M7 intervals. I have since discovered a way to think of the complete chromatic scale when playing everything, but that’s a whole other lesson further down the road. But, I will be throwing in comparisons to the different modes through out the tutorial so I’m sure we’ll touch on it.

Ok, now you have everything thrown at you at you should be able to master this on your own…yeah right!

As with anything we need to step back, look at these scales individually, across the fretboard, learn to use them, then take the next step into fusing things together. Above all, to play in this "mind frame" you will really need to be listening to what’s going on…we are going to try and make the leap from “patterns” to “music”.



I don’t know everything about music and that’s a fact but I have successfully taught this to advanced students, and students who advanced into this. So, I am going to take a slow approach to explaining it since I’m going to take the time doing it.

It’s proven you can do so many things with the Pentatonic scales, and that comes from everyone “thinking” about them differently. This is what’s made them survive for so long. These little scales in the right hands can make centuries of music.

Man, that was a lot of writing for a couple of five note scales!!!!