Pentatonics part 1 – Maj7 Chords

We all know and use pentatonic scale a lot, they are practical and easy on guitar, and it is one of the first scales we learn. Here’s how I approach using a few different pentatonic scales when improvising over a major 7th chord.

In the lesson I wrote all examples on a Cmaj7 chord. Selecting which scales work over a chord is to some degree a personal choice. I have chosen to say that I would not include a scale which has something that I would consider an avoid note like F, Bb, C# etc. This limits the options quite a lot but on the other hand if you pick out 5 notes to use over a chord then why pick 1 or 2 that don’t work witht the chord.

How to practice using the scales

When you start improvising with pentatonics over chords like this I’d suggest  you make sure that you know the scale in all positions. Learn a bunch of exercises in the scales, since they will end up helping you come up with and play melodies that are not just runing up and down the scale. In this lesson is an example of one: Diatonic chords in pentatonic scales

Try not to play your usual licks, if you start playing the solo of Back In Black over a Cmajor7 chord you are using E minor pentatonic, but probably not hearing the C chord anymore. If you start by just playing each note over a backing track or loop, and make some new melodies then you keep the sound of the chord in the process, and that is very important since you have to hear melodies in the pentatonic scale over the chord. Later when you have the sound a bit more in your ear you can start to adapt the lines you already know, and a lot of Angus’ stuff is great and will work fine :)

A minor / C major Pentatonic

The most basic choice of scale is of course the C major pentatonic (or A minor since most of us probably think more in minor than major roots). If you break this scale down over a C major root : A C D E G will be 6 1 9 3 5 so basically a C major triad with a 6 and a 9. You might notice that the fact that there is no 7 in the scale will make it work for dominant chords as well.

To this scale is mostly associated with a very pure major sound, like country or some of the simpler latin genres. I always try to have some sort of association with the sound of a scale when played over a chord since it makes it easier for me to make lines when I have (however abstract and personal) an idea how it sounds.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 1

Here’s an example of a line using the A minor pentatonic scale over a Cmaj7 chord:

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 2

The line is constructed from a 4 note scale fragment which is also often referred to as a Coltrane pattern. The 2nd part of the line is an Asus4triad  arpeggio in inversion.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 3


The 2nd line is to some degree highlighting how it is a very “major sounding” scale. The line opens with a C Major triad and then a sort of pedal point idea using G as a pedal under a simple melody.

E minor / G major Pentatonic

My sound association with the E minor pentatonic scale is a bit odd in that it is sort of a “core” C major sound: If you remove the two notes from the C major scale that I usually don’t emphasize on a Cmaj7: F and C, then you have the E minor pentatonic scale. If you spell out what the notes E G A B D would be related to C you get: 3, 5, 13, 7 and 9. All good notes to land on and to use on the chord in a jazz context.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 4

The first line that I made using the E minor pentatonic scale starts off with a stack of fourths from B to A and then continues with a sort of “inversion” of an E minor 7 arpeggio.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 5


In the 2nd line I start of with a fragment from the exercise I mentioned in Diatonic chords in pentatonic scales and go on with a E7sus4 like arpeggio.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 6


B minor / D major Pentatonic

The B minor pentatonic scale is a collection of notes that all work well on Cmaj7, the only difference is that the 5th (G) is not in the scale but the #11 (F#) is. A B minor pentatonic scale is B D E F# A which is 7 9 3 #11 and 13 in relation to a C.  The inclusion of the #11 makes it less suitable in some contexts.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 7

In the first line I start of with the minor version of the Coltrane pattern and follow it up with the “diatonic thirds” exercise before it sustains on an E.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 8

The last line is first an E sus triad followed by a short melody around the F#.

Pentatonics part 1 - Maj7 Chords Ex 9


You can download the examples in pdf format here:

Pentatonics part 1 – Maj7 Chords

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.