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Scales over Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd

Question by Wesley
(New Brunswick, Canada)

I have been playing guitar for 15+ years and your teaching about modes just opened up something that you just can't imagine!

This question or scenario will help me (and others hopefully) kinda sum it up.

This song is in B minor, right?

The verse chords are: Bm / Amaj / Gmaj / Em / Bm

For my question I will only look at the verse or chords used for the main solo, not the chorus.

So, you can use any notes in B minor or D major (relative). When it comes to modes all the modes derived from D Ionian can be used (ie: F# phrygian, C# locrian, G lydian, etc).

It is also possible to use Ionian or major scale for every single major chords or minor over minor chords. There is also arpeggios and pentatonic that I can think of.

Basically, I want you to tell me: 'Have you thought about playing this?'

Thank you and what you teach is gold!

Comfortably Minor Pentatonic

Thanks, Wesley, for a very thought provoking question. Let's take a moment to listen to this rock classic...



Jump to 4:32 and we can hear what is considered among many to be one of the most powerful guitar solos in rock history, courtesy of David Gilmour.

And it's all quite simple in theory - written predominantly using B minor pentatonic and its b5 variation (the minor blues scale).

Position the following pattern so the 1 on the low E string is at the 7th fret...

minor blues scale

So I'm in quite the dilemma here...

Yes there is, theoretically, a lot more you could do with these chords (the album version is in Bm - Bm / Amaj / Gmaj / Em / Bm).

But to say there was anything missing from Gilmour's exclusively minor blues solo would be tantamount to musical blasphemy!

Gilmour teaches us mere mortal guitarists an important lesson - that sometimes the "KISS" principle is the most effective. Especially in straight ahead minor key rock.

But let's indulge ourselves anyway for the sake of musical exploration.

For these exercises, use the jam track below (thanks to Chilli P for uploading this), which loops through that verse/solo chord sequence...



One Chord at a Time

So, as established, we're in B minor.

It's also a natural minor key (the most common minor key) because of the relationship of chords used...

i / bVII / bVI / iv / i

How do we know this? By familiarizing ourselves with the most common natural minor chord progressions.

So, B natural minor is our "parent scale" for this progression. It can be used over all the chords.

Bm / Amaj / Gmaj / Bm

Again, the 1 is on B (low E string root at the 7th fret)...

natural minor scale

And where there's natural minor, there's minor pentatonic and minor blues, as Gilmour clearly understood!

Over Bm

But there's another common alternative - harmonic minor, which raises the b7 of natural minor...

harmonic minor scale

Click the tabs to hear examples...

B harmonic minor lick

A much more "exotic" sound to westernised ears. Use it sparingly.

If we were to use harmonic minor, it would be best to change back to natural/pentatonic minor as soon as the progression moves off that B minor tonic, to avoid some unpleasant dissonance.

We could also use Dorian. Dorian uses a major 6th interval (in contrast to natural minor's minor 6th) which, when held or emphasized, gives that minor chord an eerie kind of presence...

Dorian scale

B Dorian lick

Over Amaj

Again, as a variation to B natural minor, try moving to the A root (2 frets down from our B scales) and playing A lydian dominant over Amaj.

lydian dominant scale

A Lydian Dominant lick

Why does this work? Because as Amaj is the VII chord and its natural 7th chord is a dominant 7th.

Whenever a dominant 7th chord is played or implied, lydian dominant is always a viable choice outside the diatonic (natural) scale.

That augmented 4th interval (#4) is quite dissonant, so don't dwell on or emphasize it.

We could also play major pentatonic on that A root, adding in the minor 3rd (b3) for a bluesy touch.

major blues scale

A major pentatonic blues lick

Over Gmaj

G Lydian (B natural minor) is our natural scale choice here...

G Lydian lick

But like with Amaj, we could also give this chord a dominant 7th flavour by moving to the G root and playing lydian dominant.

As for Em, we're only on that chord for the blink of an eye so it's probably best just to get back on that B root and prepare for the return home with some kind of lead-in phrase.

So, a number of scale options to try there, but sometimes it's good to think about scales and notes in the same way you would junk food - indulge too much and you risk "bloating" the music with superfluous calories!

If there's one thing that can be said about Gilmour, it's that he was a master of minimalistic lead guitar and he showed that, sometimes, one scale will say everything that needs to be said.

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bVI right?
By: Anonymous

It says "i / bVII / VI / iv / i" but should be
i / bVII / bVI / iv / i (bVI), right?

Re: bVI
By: Mike

Yes, you're right, well spotted! This has been changed. Thanks.

A few questions
By: Anonymous

Hi there,

A great lesson with practical advice how to use your recommended scales in licks - thanks a bunch!

I have a few questions:

1) What is the meaning of b in front of VII and
VI?

2)You mentioned to play A Lyd. Dominant over A. Is there any reason why your choice wasn't A Mixolydian? Could you also give a lick as an example?

3)And now for a more general question: I noticed with rock guitar instructors that when playing lead they either have their left hand parallel to the fretboard (more like classical playing) and sometime slanted. Is there any rule as to which method you use?

Thank you so much.
Cheers
Dave

Re: A few questions
By: Mike

1)

The "b" in front of the VI and VII simply means "flat".

So if you think of the major scale as having no sharps or flats...

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Its chords use that same formula...

I ii iii IV V vi vii

This gives us our most common major key progressions.

The minor scale has three flats - the b3, b6 and b7...

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

i ii bIII iv v bVI bVII

This gives us our most common minor key progressions (such as that used in Comfortably Numb).

The lower/upper case numerals tell us whether it's a minor/major chord and the "b" tells us where the root of that chord is positioned in relation to the tonic (I or i).

2)

I deliberately didn't suggest A Mixolydian, because that's essentially what you're playing if you play the B natural minor scale.

A Mixolydian is a relative mode of (i.e. uses the same notes as) B natural minor.

If you play B natural minor over the entire progression, you'll essentially be playing A Mixolydian over Amaj and G Lydian over Gmaj and E Dorian over Em without changing patterns or positions!

That's the convenience of playing natural minor in minor keys. It covers all the natural chord harmonies of that key in one single pattern.

3)

There are no rules as such, just do what feels most comfortable to you.

I personally prefer the "non-classical" position, but that's just me.

Hope that helps!

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