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Minor Pentatonic Over Major Chords

Question by Panos
(Athens , Greece)

Can I use minor pentatonic to solo over major chords and progressions? And if yes what is the relationship between the key and the scale that I should use?

Thank you


Yes, you can play minor pentatonic over major chords and chord progressions... if it sounds good.

Ultimately, let your ears be the judge of what you can and can't do. I'm not here to tell you what to play, just to guide you ;)

Blues is the most common example of minor pentatonic being used over a major key progression (the 1 4 5 progression - that's E A B in E major).

Now, if you've studied music for any length of time, you'll probably have been conditioned never to mix your major and minor 3rds.

However, blues and jazz have been ignoring this "rule" for over a century.

It's this discord/dissonance between the minor 3rd of minor pentatonic and the major 3rd of the root/tonic chord that supports the indescribably soulful "bluesy sound".

Of course, the tonic chord in a major key blues progression is nearly always a dominant 7th chord (e.g. E7 in the key of E major).

This flat 7th helps to "soften" the harshness of this major/minor 3rd clash.

Even so, the minor 3rd will often be quickly resolved to the major 3rd for a stronger feeling of resolution, but when held it's not actually an unpleasant dissonance, as many blues lovers will tell you!

So, that's blues. When else can we use minor pentatonic over major chords?

The answer is simple - whenever it sounds good to you.

I often hear minor pentatonic being used in a major key progression, but it works best when you mix it with a more natural, major scale.

For example, I might close a major soloing phrase with a little minor pentatonic run, to catch the listener off guard, to add variation and interest etc.

I think this works especially well if you play minor pentatonic over the V (5) chord, just before the resolution back to the tonic (1) chord.

For example, play C (yes, C, that's not a typo!) minor pentatonic over G major before the resolution back to C major...

G7 / Cmaj

When the chord changes to Cmaj, hit that major 3rd of C major for the resolution and your "outside" pentatonic lick will be pulled into context.

It'll have what I call "retrospective appeal". That means it requires some kind of contextualisation (e.g. resolution) after you've played it to fully appreciate its role in shaping the harmony.

It can work to spice things up a little. Experiment.

What I would NOT do (personally!) is play minor pentatonic over an entire diatonic progression like this...

Cmaj7 / Em7 / Fmaj7 / Dm7

Playing C minor pentatonic over that very natural major key progression would probably just sound like one big musical mess!

C MAJOR pentatonic, however, would be the natural choice of pentatonic scale.

So, in summary, in a major context, minor pentatonic works best over...

1. major key blues progressions (1 4 5)

2. dominant 7th tonic chords

3. just before resolving to the major 3rd of the tonic

I'll post some audio examples when I get the chance.

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By: Panos

Thank you so much , for your time and imidiate answer.I'm new in to this and your answer was so much helpful and simple
In my question i mentioned the relation of the minor pentatonic scale and the key , i should maybe have used the word interval (i apologize for my poor english).That is because on other sites i have read that in a major chord progression one could use the minor pentatonic scale which is rooted three semitones lower than the key note of the chord progression.
E.g. on an C major chord progression, A minor pentatonic scale could be used for licks and solos over an entire song (progression) and it would be the same as using the C major pentatonic scale.I don't know if this is a ''rule'' or if it even applies.
Anyway , once again ,thank you very much for your reply and for all the work you've done , you're great!!

By: Mike

You are right, playing A minor pentatonic over a C major progression will just sound like C major pentatonic.

When used in this way, it's no longer considered the minor pentatonic scale, because the major key puts the pattern into a major context.

Hope that makes sense.

what about the bass
By: Alexis

What if the bassist plays a major pentatonic over a mojor chords and the guitarist plays a minor pentatonic.. wouldn't that be wrong ??

Re: what about the bass
By: Mike

You'll hear this in blues all the time - the bass walks through major pentatonic while the guitar/keys runs through minor pentatonic.

Remember, there's no such thing as right or wrong in music - there is only dissonance and harmony. If it sounds good, play it.

now i know
By: wizzpizz

That is exactly what I didn't understand. Why a minor pentatonic scale was played over a major progression. Thankyou.

By: Anonymous

You should watch Panos play in YouTube.
You will be surprised he is asking any questions.

Relative Scales..
By: Grand Radian

Yes, you can play a minor scale over a major chord because every major scale has a relative minor and vice versa.
C major is relative to A minor since both contain the same notes (C D E F G A B).
The minor relative of a major scale is the 6th.
The major relative of a minor scale is the 3rd.

Minor escale over mayor chords NEW
By: Anonymous

Thank you for the explication of this subject,helps a lot but is weird that they teach the theory,and we suppose to follow the theory,and never explain,you can do wath ever if sounds to you ok is no law.
The same with the major pentatonic over major chords like,
Thank you again is a great help!..because this kind of music
Tricks are hard to understand without a teacher

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