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Playing Major Pentatonic Over The IV Chord

In the previous part we learned how to connect several major pentatonic patterns to create one large "roadmap" for the scale. Now it's time to use that roadmap to play through one of the most common major key chord changes, involving the IV chord (that's 4 chord if you don't know your Roman numerals!).

The IV chord is used in countless songs and compositions, being a natural and integral chord in major key harmony. Best of all, it's not difficult to make major pentatonic sound good over it.

We're going to use this 4 chord as our first step in learning to improvise (and write) lead parts over chord progressions. Use the guided jam track below to get playing...

Tip: Youtube has a tempo change function. Look for the cog icon in the bottom right of the video screen.

The IV Chord in Major Keys

The 4 chord is so-called because it's built on the 4th degree of the major scale. The 4 chord root can also be seen as a perfect 4th interval from the tonic (1) chord root. Don't worry if you're unsure what that means for now.

Using the table below, we can see what the IV chord would be in the most common major keys, and therefore when major pentatonic would be compatible. Strum the chords so you can get a feel for this I - IV relationship.

major pentatonic I and IV chords table

Major Pentatonic - IV Chord Tones

When the chord changes to IV, we can still play the root scale (e.g. C major pentatonic over Fmaj), but the tones of the scale now have a new relationship, as the chord root has changed.

As mentioned in the video, you don't have to memorize the numerical interval labels for the IV chord tones, but hopefully as you were jamming you were picking up on how each tone in the scale harmonizes with the IV chord. Maybe you even have a favourite target note over that chord.

That's really what I want this to be about - ear training and connecting what you play with some kind of emotional response. By doing that, you memorize the note positions in a much more meaningful way.

If you are more of a visual learner, below are some diagrams showing you how the tones of major pentatonic change in relation to the IV chord. This will help you target the notes you want to express in your solo.

Starting with the major 3rd (3) in the bass...

major pentatonic 1 positions
major pentatonic IV positions

Major Pentatonic IV Backing Tracks

First, explore major pentatonic over just the IV chord, without any changes. Use the diagrams above to help.

F Major (play C major pentatonic)

Now for some I - IV changes. Download the track used in the guided jam and try out skills without the visual aids. Below the audio player you can set the desired tempo.

Download the fretjam C major track

Also, below I've picked out some great tracks from Youtube that use the 4 chord...

C Major Groove

C Major Jazz

C Major Smooth

Want more high quality, major pentatonic compatible jam tracks? Take a look at Jonathan Boettcher's 30 Rock Jam Tracks.

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