In the minor
pentatonic scale lesson we learned the intervals
make up the
scale and that it's basically a minor scale that will work over minor
However, it also works over sequences
of chords (chord progressions).
In most cases, as long as the chords used in the progression lie within
the same key (more on this in a minute!), you can use the same root
minor pentatonic scale throughout the entire progression.
First, we need to understand the theory behind what makes a chord
progression suitable for playing minor pentatonic...
Building minor pentatonic chord progressions
The primary function of minor pentatonic is as a stripped down
minor scales (e.g. natural minor, harmonic minor, Dorian etc.).
As the "rules" for minor pentatonic are exactly the same
as for natural minor, I recommend looking over the natural
minor scale progressions
lesson for an overview of using minor pentatonic over minor key
key and blues context
Unlike other minor scales, minor pentatonic is often used in a major
key context, such as in blues or rock and roll.
In a blues context, the chords used can be symbolised as I IV V
(1 4 5).
This means we're using three major chords, including a major tonic (I)
which defines the key of our chord progression and the root
of our minor pentatonic scale.
Here's a video I uploaded to the YouTube
channel that introduces the essential I IV V concept on
Now, if we're playing minor pentatonic over this sequence, the best way
to support its sound is to use dominant 7th chords on each
Dominant 7th chords give this sequence more of a bluesy feel that
really brings out minor pentatonic's character.
For example, if the tonic chord was E7, this is the sequence we'd
minor pentatonic would be our scale, even though the tonic
this a major key progression! It's just one of those dissonances
(between the major and minor 3rd) that actually sounds good and gives
it that bluesy sound. Using dominant 7th chords "softens" the harshness
In the key of D major (and therefore D minor pentatonic would be our
scale), we'd have...
Same sequence, different key. Get to know the sound of these chord
relationships and you'll know when minor pentatonic is an option for
Of course, a typical progression might move between these chords in a
different way, such as...
That's a typical rock and roll progression over which minor pentatonic
would typically be used (as well as extended blues
So, in a nutshell, minor pentatonic works over minor key progressions
in exactly the same way natural minor does, but it also works over
those 3 chord I IV V major key blues
You should explore these relationships in your own time, but below is a
table showing you how the minor pentatonic root would
change depending on the key your 1 4 5 progression is in. Notice how
key, and therefore the root of our scale is defined by
the tonic (I) starting chord.
& Scale Root
Minor pentatonic over the V chord
Even if the progression doesn't follow the traditional blues 1 4 5
sequence, you can still use minor pentatonic over the V (5) chord of a
progression, before the resolution back to a major or minor tonic.
For example, a common resolution sequence is ii V I (2 5 1), and while
the root minor pentatonic scale of that key wouldn't work so
comfortably over the ii
chord, it would work nicely over the V and I or i chord.
Some examples of how you might negotiate this:
ii V I
over the ii
Bm / E7 / Amaj
B Dorian/A major
A minor pentatonic
C#m / F#7 / Bmaj
C# Dorian / B major
B minor pentatonic
Dm / G7 / Cmaj
D Dorian / C major
C minor pentatonic
Em / A7 / Dmaj
E Dorian / D major
D minor pentatonic
F#m / B7 / Emaj
F# Dorian / E major
E minor pentatonic
Gm / C7 / Fmaj
G Dorian / F major
F minor pentatonic
Am / D7 / Gmaj
A Dorian / G major
G minor pentatonic
Remember, this also works for a minor tonic as well. Taking the G root
from the table - Am / D7 / Gm.
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