#1
Beginner basic question here.....I've watched a stack of online YouTube videos about Pentatonic scales...they all explain how to play them...but I've not found one to clearly articulate the context of using it in a song....as it relates to either the key or the chords...

Assuming I have a song that has a common chord progression...for example....

12 bar blues in the key of G.....has a mixture of G, C and D chords in it.

Option 1:

Do I just simply stick to playing the Pentatonic scale on the actual key of G Major through the whole song?

or Option 2:

Change to soloing with the Pentatonic scale relevant to the actual Chord changes in the song....

ie Start with Pentatonic scale on a G chord root note....then Pentatonic scale on the C Chord...then Pentatonic scale on the D chord etc.

I've heard some'online educators' say...use it on the chord....others use it on the key...

which is it?

Thanks for bringing clarity to confusion!
#2
Hi dude, the simple answer is that you play the G minor pentatonic scale over everything in G blues, irrespective of the chords being played.

The longer answer is that in the key of G major (like your blues example) you are always playing the G major scale. However you can add and change whatever notes you like. If you flatten the third and seventh and choose not to play the second or sixth, you'll have the G minor pentatonic scale. The flat third and seventh are called "accidentals".

Now you could opt to approach each chord like it's own thing, G minor pentatonic over the G, C minor pentatonic over the C, D minor pentatonic over the D. But the resulting sound will always be some variation of the G major scale. This is because as the song is in the key of G, every note, every chord, will want to go to G. It affects the way that it sounds. So even if your brain goes "C is the key", and you solo over the G-C-D progression like C is the key, it won't change anything, because G is the key.

Also remember that there are no rules about what you can and can't play. Just listen to what you are playing, and if you like it play it.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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#3
You can play anything you like as long as it sounds good. As Alan said, just play the scale of the key first, and make that sound good. Afterwards, you can start mixing up major and minor pentatonic scales which is pretty popular in blues. I personally wouldn't start with the "different key for each chord" method, but there also isn't any reason you couldn't do that. Pentatonic scales are flexible, I think Jet had a huge thread on this a while back? Where he explained how you can just play any pentatonic scale at any point and make it sound great.
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#4
AlanHB Thanks so much for the thorough explanation AlanHB and Kevaturhi! That really brings some clarity...and opens up some doors for further learning!

Can you explain why people seem to emphasise learning the minor pentatonic more than the major pentatonic?

This research indicates most songs listened to on Spotify are written in Major Keys?

http://io9.gizmodo.com/a-chart-of-the-most-commonly-used-keys-shows-our-actual-1703086174

Or is that because a lot of guitar players like playing the Blues....?

And then there is this perplexing question...why do common major and minor pentatonic charts mix up the order!?

https://jsmusicschool.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/minor-and-major-pentatonic-shapes.png

Pattern 1 Minor = Pattern 5 Major
Pattern 2 Minor = Pattern 1 Major
Pattern 3 Minor = Pattern 2 Major
etc.

Really the only difference is where the root note is positioned...so I'm not sure why this is commonly jumbled?

Anyway thanks so much for your thoughts! Am keen to try and get my head around all of this! I figure I just learn the patterns..mainly in the Major context...and go from there.

Thank you.
Last edited by Kangaroos` at Nov 16, 2016,
#5
Let's take the A minor pentatonic:

A C D E G

And C major pentatonic:

C D E G A

Same notes, right? So if you play the A minor pentatonic starting from the second note, you're playing the C major pentatonic (without context of a song, that is). This is why that chart is ordered like that. Same thing, if you play the C major pentatonic starting from the fifth note (fifth position) which is A, you're playing the A minor pentatonic (again without context). The chart is written that way to show you the relationship between the major and minor pentatonic scales.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

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#6
I'm surprised that the major keys beat the minor keys in terms of Spotify plays. I guess it depends on the style of music you listen to. Certain styles and eras lean more towards major or minor. For example, a lot of folk music is major. For guitar-based genres like classic rock, metal, and blues, minor is probably more prevalent. This is why minor pentatonic is taught to guitarists.
#7
Quote by Kevätuhri
Let's take the A minor pentatonic:

A C D E G

And C major pentatonic:

C D E G A

Same notes, right? So if you play the A minor pentatonic starting from the second note, you're playing the C major pentatonic (without context of a song, that is). This is why that chart is ordered like that. Same thing, if you play the C major pentatonic starting from the fifth note (fifth position) which is A, you're playing the A minor pentatonic (again without context). The chart is written that way to show you the relationship between the major and minor pentatonic scales.


Thanks! I can understand the first part...ie. that A minor Pentatonic is the same as C Major Pentatonic....I'm having a hard time trying to understand the correlation between the chart positions though...ie. "The chart is written that way to show you the relationship between the major and minor pentatonic scales."

I can't see what relationship there is between:
Pattern 1 Minor and Pattern 1 Major.
Pattern 2 Minor and Pattern 2 Major etc.

(Is a bit like trying to crack the Enigma code to my brain!)

Maybe it doesn't even matter to understand that though anyway...the long and short is just learn the shapes...understand whether you're in a major or minor key...know where your root notes....and just play! I did find that Pattern 1 Major was an easier pattern to start with because the root note is on the bottom E string)

Thanks for the explanations!
#8
Quote by Declan87
Certain styles and eras lean more towards major or minor. For example, a lot of folk music is major.


You could also say a lot of folk music is minor. The term folk music itself is problematic with no context since folk music can mean anything. The term a lot is always pretty vague as well. But I will say that most Mongolian folk music is in Fm and if you imagine a piece of Eastern European music in your head right now, you're probably imagining something in a minor key. Many of the most popular Irish session tunes are in minor keys (usually E or B). Similarly a lot of old-time Appalachian music is minor since it is very highly influenced by Irish music. But what is a lot anyway?
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#10
When playing the blues you can use the minor pentatonic of the key all the way, but that's really only one of several sounds you can get from the blues. The chord tones themselves are the basis for any melody, and anything you play is either working with or against them in some way. I'm afraid I'm too indisposed to list the standard melodic devices in detail, but the basic concept is to take the arpeggio and build on it. The pentatonic scale - major or minor - is essentially an arpeggio with a couple extra passing tones, so you'll find that it's actually really effective to mix the two up. The more you go on chord tones the more you'll lean towards the jazz or country sides of blues, but if you listen to blues music you'll find that most players use several approaches in any given solo.
#11
Kangaroos` The minor pentatonic scale is probably used more at the start because it will sound good over both major and minor keys, meaning that you can play over any song with the minor pentatonic, and it will sound ok.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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#12
How much do you know about keys? Are you familiar with relative and parallel keys? Relative keys have the exact same notes, but different roots. For example, D major would be D E F# G A B C#, and B minor would be B C# D E F# G A. The notes are the same, but the roots are different. The other is a major key, and the other is it's relative minor. Same notes, different root.

The reason you can't see a clear relationship between pattern 1 or pattern 2 in both keys is because there is none, and there isn't supposed to be one. They're different scales. But they both have the same 5 positions, and the reason people use them is that they want to be able to play the same scale in different parts of the neck for variety. Parallel keys have the exact same notes in each position. The first position of D major is identical to the second position of B minor. The third position of B minor is identical to the second position of D major. Some people find it easy to remember that in the key of C major, they can just play A minor, or in the key of G major, they can just play E minor etc. That chart just shows you where you need to play those patterns in order to stay within the key. If you want to see the relation between major and minor, don't look at position 1 of both scales. Find the same pattern in both keys, and you'll notice that if you play in a minor key, you can also play the major pentatonic scale one whole step higher and get the same notes. You're still playing the same scale, but if you learn all of the patterns, you can move around the fretboard more fluidly.

If we take the key of C (because I'm lazy), and pretend that pattern 1 from both scales has a root of C, we have two scales that are in parallel keys. These keys have the same root, but different notes. C major would be C D E F G A B, and C minor would be C D Eb F G Ab Bb. Same root, different notes. One is major, one is minor. Parallel keys have very little to do with each other, they just happen to share the same root note, but in blues, parallel major and minor scales are often mixed for effect, basically to "add spice" to your song. But that's not something you should worry about just yet imo, learn to play in one key first.

Not sure if this post makes sense at all but if you have more questions, fire away.
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Theory: Not rules, just tools.

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#13
Quote by Kangaroos`

Can you explain why people seem to emphasise learning the minor pentatonic more than the major pentatonic?
Because of blues. Blues is usually in a major key, but the minor pentatonic is the normal scale to use. It clashes, but that's what makes it "blues" (and is why blues players bend notes a lot of the time).
That is, for a blues in A major, you would use the A minor pentatonic scale. And you would use it on every chord (A, D and E).
Because rock is largely influenced by blues, that also works in most rock songs.

And A is the easiest key on guitar - because those 3 chords are probably the easiest - which is why A minor pentatonic is the first pentatonic that's usually taught.
Quote by Kangaroos`

This research indicates most songs listened to on Spotify are written in Major Keys?
Yes, but depends a lot on genre. Modern R&B is mostly in minor keys. Rock is a mix, but what confuses the issue is that a lot of songs (maybe most) mix major and minor in the same song. I'd say most rock music is in a major key, but that's taking all periods of rock into account. And rock major keys (like blues) often have flattened notes or borrowed chords that make them sound more minor.
Quote by Kangaroos`

Or is that because a lot of guitar players like playing the Blues....?
You got it.
Quote by Kangaroos`

And then there is this perplexing question...why do common major and minor pentatonic charts mix up the order!?

https://jsmusicschool.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/minor-and-major-pentatonic-shapes.png

Pattern 1 Minor = Pattern 5 Major
Pattern 2 Minor = Pattern 1 Major
Pattern 3 Minor = Pattern 2 Major
etc.

Really the only difference is where the root note is positioned...so I'm not sure why this is commonly jumbled?
Not sure what you mean by jumbled. The patterns are numbered in the order they overlap up the neck. So the bottom part of pattern 1 is the top part of pattern 2 (The patterns are upside down pitch-wise, with low frets at the top.)
E.g., if you put minor pent pattern 1 between frets 5-8 (A minor pent), then pattern 2 covers frets 7-10, and so on. The blue dots are A notes in each case.
Major pent pattern 1 = Minor pattern 2, but in this case - if placed in the same position (frets 7-10) - the blue dots are C notes. IOW, the only difference is which note is the root.

And that's normally determined by the chord you're playing over. Play over a C major chord, and any "A minor pent" pattern will sound like C major pent. Play over an Am chord, and any "C major" pent pattern will sound like A minor pent. IOW, name the scale according to the chord (or the key you're in).

If you play over an A major chord, then A minor/C major pent will sound like "A blues".
Quote by Kangaroos`

Anyway thanks so much for your thoughts! Am keen to try and get my head around all of this! I figure I just learn the patterns..mainly in the Major context...and go from there.
I suggest learning chords first. That is, associate each pent (and each pattern of the pent) with its chord shape.

So, minor pent pattern 1 fits an "Em" chord shape. In open position (top fret of the pattern = 0) it gives you Em pentatonic, includes all 3 notes of the Em chord (E-G-B), and adds the 4th (A) and 7th (D). It also fits a "G" chord shape, making G major pentatonic - including all 3 notes of the G chord (G-B-D), adding the 2nd (A) and 6th (E).
Compare with how it fits an E major chord. You'll notice the chord has a G# (fret 1 3rd string) while the pattern has G. That's the "blues" distinction.

Of course, you can also check how the E major chord fits E major pent. This means placing major pent pattern 2 on fret 1 (blue dot on 4th string fret 2). Of course you also have the open 6th, 2nd and 1st strings as part of the pattern. The point is to see how the pattern adds the 2nd (F#) and 6th (C#) to the E-G#-B chord tones. (Knowing the note names is not critical, although obviously it helps. What matter is seeing the chord-scale relationships - how the patterns match the shapes.)
Normally with an "E-form" barre chord, you'd use major pent pattern 1. E.g., for an A major chord on 5th fret (5-7-7-6-5-5), pattern 1 is placed on 4th fret (so the outer blue dots are on 5th fret). Again, see how the shape and pattern coincide: every note of the chord is in the pattern.

When improvising in any non-blues music, the pentatonic of the chord will always work - precisely because (major or minor) it contains all 3 chord tones, and two good passing notes or consonant extensions (ie notes that will sound good against the chord even if held). And they are almost always in key too (and even if they're not, they usually sound OK).
In this way, the pentatonics make a good half-way stage to working with full 7-note scales.
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 18, 2016,
#14
^This. There's multiple levels of ideas you can play with here.

If you want to be harmonically general, play the pentatonic and blues scale of the key; the chord progression doesn't matter (if it stays mostly diatonic) beca
use the scale and chords point to the same tonic triad.

If you want to imply more specific harmonies, play the pentatonic of the chord.

You can take this one step further and use different pentatonics than the chords, but that's a more abstract idea.
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