Standard with Pentatonics – Satin Doll

All guitarists learn the pentatonic scale, and it is a more versatile tool than most realise. In this lesson I am going to take the progression from Satin Doll and first show you how to play the chords and then go over how you can use pentatonic scales to improvise over it.

At the end of the video I talk a bit about how you use the pentatonic scales so that you still emphasize the changing chords and really follow the progression.

The Pentatonic scale and Jazz

The Pentatonic scale is a very big part of the modern jazz sound. If you listen to music from after the mid 60’s it is very likely you’ll hear improvisers use the pentatonic scale in parts of their solos.

Since we as guitarists usually are introduced to the minor pentatonic scale as the first scale we ever encounter it is also a very fundamental part of where we come from. We just need to make the transition to being able to use it when playing on jazz progressions like Satin Doll.

Satin Doll – Form and chords

I will cover the chord voicings for the song using the material that I present in this lesson: How to play Jazz Chords

One of the most common jazz standard forms is AABA where the form is 32 bars, and has two components an  A and a B., each 8 bars long. Satin Doll is a very typical AABA standard with what is often called an Ellington bridge.

The song is in the key of C major and the progressions are mostly one bar II V progressions. For the A part it consists of a chain of different II V’s that finally resolves to a Cmaj7 chord. If the A is returning to an A part you also add a II V back in the last bar.


As I mentioned the B part is what is often called an Ellington bridge. Probably because it is found in so many famous Ellington and Strayhorn compositions.

In the B part we first have a cadence to the IV(F) of the key followed by two bars of Fmaj7. The cadence is actually made up of two 1 bar cadences. This harmonisation fits very well with the melody that is also a repeated phrase. The 2nd half of the bridge is a repeat of the 1st half but then on the dominant of the dominant. In this case represented by Am7 D7. This resolves to a long II V back to C. I have chosen to use a G7 altered chord to also have that color represented in this



Finding the right pentatonic scale

To play over the song we need to find different pentatonic scales that fit the different parts of the progression. In example 3 I have shown which scale I will use for a m7, a Maj7 and a Dom7alt chord. The idea is then that we ignore the V in all the 1 bar II V’s and then just use the scale for the II chord, and for the rest we just use the two other “rules” for the Maj7 and dom7alt chords.


Turning the scales in to exercises

When we put this together as a scale exercise on the A parts we then get example 4:


And for the B part we have example 5:


Now that you have scales for everything you can start to make lines. It can be very useful to check out which notes are different from one scale to the next so that you can clearly hear when you change from one chord to the next by targeting that note and playing it on the one of the bar. As an example I go over how the Dm and Em scales in the A part gives you an B and an E as target notes when going from Dm7 G7 to Em7 A7. You can also check out my lesson on Target notes for this technique.

I hope you can use the ideas I went over hear explore using pentatonic scales over Satin Doll. It can be a good way to get into jazz but it can also just be a useful addition to your vocabulary.

If you want some more insight into how I improvise then you can check out this lesson on a solo on a Bb blues. It contains some different pentatonic ideas as well, and there are a few different possibilities over a Bb blues. It also has a lot of other devices including triplet phrasing and double time as well as using chords in solos.

Bb Jazz Blues Lesson 1

If you want to study the examples I went over in the lesson you can of course also download them as a pdf here below:


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