Alterations to the Minor Pentatonic Scale: The Dominant Pentatonic scale

This lesson explores the structure and the use of the minor pentatonic with a major 3rd.

Ultimate Guitar


Hello and welcome, dear readers and members of UG! Thanks for checking out this lesson. This is something I am still exploring myself. Let me explain first how I came up with it.

So I was messing with some Phrygian dominant licks today, some slow, some fast. Thing is though, they did sounded quite cliche to my ears (being Greek, I hear this scale countless times in folk music, it is quite abused). Then I remembered the song "Anastasia," by Slash, which happens to have a lot of harmonic minor/Phrygian dominant stuff, and if I remember correctly, some blues licks tossed into the more exotic stuff. So I thought of altering the good old minor pentatonic scale to keep some standard blues licks, but have an exotic edge to them.

What I did is raise the minor 3rd to a major 3rd. Not much later, I looked that up and saw that the scale I "made up" has an official name: the dominant pentatonic.

The Scale

We will be looking at it in the key of A (A C# D E G). Here's the 5 positions:

Structure and Use

As you can see and hear once you play through it, it has quite a different feel and mood than the minor pentatonic.

What is quite interesting about it is the intervals between the first three notes. Those of you familiar with the Phrygian dominant scale will recognize the sound rather quickly. The intervals that are missing (minor 6th and minor 2nd) create the characteristic "openness" of the pentatonic. At the same time, it is only 2 notes shy from a Mixolydian scale (major 6th and major 2nd)!

So what you get is a scale that can be played over a major or dominant 7th chord. This means you can toss it in a blues solo (experiment changing the root of the scale on the chord changes, and not because it fits all of them well enough), to steer away from the same old licks, and you can use it in a neoclassical context.

Ideas for Licks

1. You may notice than when the major 3rd shows up, a string of notes is created in between 2 neighboring positions, that can be played with your 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers respectively. Use it a springboard to give your playing some gas (i.e. speed), because it falls well under the fingers.

2. Try tossing in the minor 3rd along with the major 3rd in legato runs, particularly in blues, where chromaticism is more than welcome.

3. If you want the scale to be even better suited to blues, include the flat 5th!

4. Mix up your good old minor pentatonic licks with licks from this scale, essentially going back and forth between the 2 scales.

Enjoy giving your playing a fresh sound! If there's anything I forgot, or confused anyone, let me know in the comments and I will reply as soon as I can. Thanks again!

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Some nice ideas! I never really thought about these scales... But after messing around with them a bit (thanks to you), I must say - it sounds indeed EXTREMELY bluesy - especially with the three chromatic steps you get when you add the flat 5th, but in a certain way also a little exotic. Thanks!
    I'm glad you found this article helpful! Try this scale over a backing track in a Mixolydian mode. It really brings the mode to life.