Check this video out 1:45

He's using the A major pen scale over a G major and it sounds good. Theory wise how does this work?
It's like a IVmaj7/IV to IV to I to V thing. Chromatic alterations can be used to smoothen melodic lines.

C# isn't usually in a G major chord, but C# is one of the chord notes in A major. It connects the lick together. (If you wanted to analyze all the notes as part of the chord, it'd be a IVmaj13#11/IV.)

Btw, for shared notes, check out the smooth transition between the top 3 voices:

F#-F#-E -E
D -D -C#-B
B -A -A -G#

G -D -A -E

(I'd actually argue that the E isn't part of the actual chord, so Gmaj7#11-D-A-E, and then the C# and E act as diatonic pointers to A major to counterbalance the fact that the G major chord is normally bVII in A major)
I was going to say something about "lydian mode" - which is what A major pent over a G chord would normally mean - but in this case he's just playing a sequence in key of A major, which just happens to start with the bVII chord. So in using A major pent he's simply underlining the key he's in - he resolves the phrase very clearly to the A note at the end (the fact it's on the D chord gives it sweetness, as well as underlining the approaching tonic chord.)

I think of it as a kind of traditional soul/gospel effect. I.e., in blues we're used to using minor pent of the key over all the chords. In gospel, we can use major pent of the key over all the chords. The pent is such a strong sound that it can over-ride any brief clashes with chord tones, in a sequence like this where the chord changes are quite quick.

Of course, the interesting/clever thing here is his sequence actually starts with G-D, so if it wasn't for the solo it would sound like the key of either G (I-V) or D (IV-I). So his A pent phrase is saying "hold on, that's not the key, this is".

It would be quite a different effect if the chords never went to A and E, but stayed on G and D. Then you'd get a D major IV-I effect, because of the C# in the scale, and it would make the D sound like a maj9 chord. And if it was only a G chord all the time, A major pent would make it lydian.

(BTW, it's unfortunate he calls the C# note "Db" later on. As a teacher, I hope he's ashamed of himself....)
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 26, 2016,
It's in the key of A major so A major pentatonic just works. Also, it's not only about what you play over a single chord, it's about the surrounding chords too (I would say those are as important as the chord you are playing over because the melody needs to sound good over the changes, not just over a single chord - you need to know what's coming next, where it's going, not just what chord you are playing over at the moment). It's all about the context and seeing the big picture, not just single chords. (This is why I don't really like chord scale theory - it makes people, especially beginners, forget about the big picture and only focus on single chords. It obviously also has its uses, but I think it only really starts making sense when you understand more about keys and harmonic functions.)

Now, if the only chord in your progression was G major and you decided to play A major pentatonic over it, then it would give you a (G) Lydian sound (G major chord + A major pentatonic = G A B C# D E F#). But this particular solo has nothing to do with that. But of course if you like the sound of A major pentatonic played over G major chord, just experiment with it. A major pentatonic over G major emphasizes the more "colorful" notes (3, maj7, 9, #11, 13), but it lacks the more "bland" sounding root and fifth. This will make your melodies sound more "exotic" and less "traditional" (but it depends on the context - I'm talking about playing over only one chord).

But yeah, remember that context matters a lot. If you see a G major chord in a song that's in the key of A major, A major pentatonic will work just fine over it (it will most likely work just fine over all chords in the progression). But if the song is for example in the key of G major or C major, A major pentatonic may sound pretty strange.
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Elaborating on MaggaraMarine's answer, in case you're thinking "yeah, but G major is not diatonic to the key of A major", just remember that it is quite common to slip in chords that are non-diatonic. Like this G. Point is, that just adds some flavour to the progression, without really de-stabilising the "A-majorness" of the overall progression.

That G could have been handled using G chord tones, or using some of G maj pentatonic, for example ... but the important point is that the melodic choice, if you did this, could then lead to a chord tone from A (maj7) to get you into the A major key, proper (as the D A E progression begins). But Tim Pierce's interpretation melodically places in A major.

(I can hear an equally valid, but different interpretation for the tonality of the D A E part, with E as tonal centre ... this is one of those nicely ambiguous examples)
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 29, 2016,

If you think about a pentatonic scale as something that revolves around a tonic triad, the whole situation becomes a little more obvious.

A major pentatonic is a scale that revolves around an A major triad.

Our chord progression in this case is a series of harmonies, all of which revolve around an A major triad.

Therefore, our pentatonic scale works over these chords. There's no key changes or superimpositions involved here.
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