This way of turning the pentatonic scale into chords is surprisingly easy and already built into the way we play the scale, so if you can find a pentatonic scale that fits a chord then you have a great way to create some beautiful chord runs with a lot of movement and some really nice colors.
Let me show you how it works, and then explain and expand on how you can start using this great sound:
This is a fill to fit a Cmaj7
and the pentatonic scale used is this Em pentatonic scale, I’ll go over choosing scales in a bit:
Here, I am turning the pentatonic scale into chords by playing 3 notes at a time. In the previous example, I used these 4 chords:
Why Does It Work?
So I am really just thinking of them as playing notes in the scale at the same time, I am not thinking 4 different chords. The combined sound of all of them is what works and they fit together perfectly because they are in the scale.
Of course, you can do this for the entire position, and you can also use the same chords but change how you play them:
The way this works is about moving around in one position, but as you will see, you can also add some nice melodic tricks and start moving along the neck as well.
Finding Pentatonic Scales For Cmaj7
But first, let’s look a bit at finding pentatonic scales for a maj7 chord, later I will also show you some other chords and a great pentatonic scale that fits on a m6 or mMaj7 chord. The construction is a bit weird, but it sounds amazing, actually, I am going against my own rules in the name of it.
When you are looking for pentatonic scales it is not super complicated.
A Cmaj7 chord is either the I chord or the IV chord in a major scale.
If Cmaj7 is the one chord in C major then you have 3 possible minor pentatonic scales:
C major: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
Am: A C D E G A
Dm: D F G A C D
Em: E G A B D E
In this case, the Dm pentatonic is not really going to sound like a Cmaj7 mainly because of the F. But both Am and Em work really well. If you look at the notes of Am pentatonic, that is really just a C6/9 chord: C E G A D,
but since this way of using the scales is about adding color then the Em pentatonic is a little bit better because you also have the B, the major 7th so it is a little richer, and we want it to be as rich as possible!
The same type of analysis works if Cmaj7 is the 4th degree, here the scale would be G major and the available pentatonic scales would be Em, Am and Bm. Em and Am I already talked about but in this case the Bm is interesting because it has the two important notes for the chord: E and B, 3rd and 7th and then you have the 9th, the 13th, and the #11.
So this is can also be a very useful scale for the chord giving you a sort of open floating lydian sound:
The Secret To This Approach
One thing that it is important that you realize with this approach is that playing these pentatonic chord runs is like arpeggiating a chord. If you arpeggiate a chord then you have to hear a few notes before you can hear what chord it is.
This works the same, so not all the 3-note pentatonic chords are complete versions of for example a Cmaj7, but the entire run will sound like a Cmaj7.
If you look at the 2nd chord it is A D and G so it lacks the E and the B but those notes are in the surrounding chords so the whole thing still works.
In fact, this is similar to how you use quartal voicings, where you move around a voicing and sometimes it is not a complete chord, like this II V I in C major where the chords on beat 2 and 3 are not really complete Dm7 or G7alt voicings, but the entire thing still works.
In the end, just come up with something that sounds cool and it will probably work. Let’s try it out on an m7 chord and explore moving out of positions which can make things a lot easier sometimes.
Pentatonic Chords for a m7 chord
If you look at the 3 pentatonic scales in C major and compare them to a Dm7 chord, then it makes sense that the scale that will work the best is the Dm pentatonic since that is the only one that has both a 3rd and the 7th, so F and C.
Instead of playing in position then you can also move along the neck, and turn that into some beautiful moving harmony that is often also easier to play.
The basic Dm pentatonic voicings could be this:
And you can easily turn that into a beautiful II V I and notice how I use the Em pentatonic scale as a short extra fill on the Cmaj7. It doesn’t always have to be large runs all the time, it can also be a small detail.
Now you can cover a lot of ground already, so I guess it would be nice to find a nice scale for a m6 or a mMaj7 chord, so let’s try that.
The Minor Pentatonic b1-scale
I actually hate the name I gave this scale, but it is by far the easiest way to construct it, so that is why I am sticking with it, even if it annoys every pedantic theoretically correct principle in my brain!
The scale I want to use is a scale that fits over a minor chord with a maj 6th and a maj7th which is really the sound of melodic minor.
For Cmaj7 you have Em pentatonic: E G A B D (3 5 6 7 9) with all the nice colors and extensions.
If only we had a minor version of that… Oh wait:
Em Pentatonic b1 : Eb G A B D
So here I am essentially just taking the Em pentatonic scale and changing E to Eb, hence the b1 pentatonic scale.
A better name for this scale is G major b6 pentatonic, which I believe I took from Rick Beato, but I am not 100% sure.
If you want some pentatonic chord magic on an Am6 chord then you use the C#m pentatonic but change the C# to a C, which gives you E major b6 pentatonic.
And now you can create 3 note voicings like this:
And then you can create some nice chord runs for an Am6 or AmMaj7 chord, it is really an amazing sound, and after that, you probably know what I am going to do next.
Altered Dominants And Counter-Movement
Now that you have a great pentatonic scale for a melodic minor sound then the next thing to do is (of course?) to put that to use on an altered dominant!
This is going to be a few steps, but it is worthwhile!
Let’s take G7alt:
G altered is Ab melodic minor.
The Pentatonic scale for Ab melodic minor is Cm with the C turned into a B (or Cb)
So this scale:
And then you have these chords:
And now you can create an all-pentatonic chord run that works great as an intro but is maybe a bit busy for comping. You also want to notice the counter-movement in the Dm7 voicings.
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