Tag Archives: pentatonics

Pentatonic Scale for Altered Chords – Modern Melodic Minor Secrets

The Pentatonic scale is one of the first things we learn. And since it is something we are very familiar with and we can use this to change it a bit and use it for other chord sounds like Altered Dominants or other melodic minor sounds. In this lesson I am going to show you a simple way to make a great pentatonic scale for altered chords and demonstrate how to learn and how to use it.

Creating the Pentatonic scale

I came up with this scale by playing a C minor pentatonic scale and then changing the C to a B. This is shown in example 1, first the C minor and then the B Lydian Augmented pentatonic scale.

As you can see in this example we can easily use that we already know 5 positions of pentatonic scales and that it is easy to “alter” the root so that we make them into or new pentatonic scale.

The Melodic Minor Connection

It is important to also notice that this scale, or 5 note set of notes. Is also a subset of the Ab melodic minor scale:

Melodic minor:       Ab Bb B Db Eb F G Ab Ab Bb

Altered pentatonic:          B        Eb F G            Bb B

This tells us that it is a part of the Ab melodic minor/ G Altered scale and we can also see that it is a good fit for the G7 with an F and a B in there.

Learning The Altered Dom7th Pentatonic Scale

Since the scale is layed out in 2 notes per string patterns across the neck, just like our normal pentatonic scales we can use some of the same exercises to get used to playing the scale

Here are a few excerpts:

The pentatonic scale in groups of 3 notes

The scale in groups of 4 notes:

Finding the chords in the scale

It is important to also have some of the structures under control in the scale. The place you probably want to start is to create some diatonic chords. In Example 5 I have stacked diatonic “3rds” which as you may know yields a lot of quartal harmony.

This exercise is shown here below:

The chords that we get from this are:

  • G7alt Quartal Voicing
  • Eb augmented triad
  • F Quartal Voicing
  • G7 Shell voicing
  • Eb Maj triad (2nd inv)

All of them are quite useful as upper-structures on a G7 altered.

Using the scale as a melody

To demonstrate the way this pentatonic scale works in the context of a II V I I have made three examples.

The first example starts with a pattern of an Fmaj7 (the arpeggio from the 3rd of Dm7). The arepggio is played in a 1 5 3 7 pattern. The line continues with a descending scale run.

On the G7alt the line is simply an ascending run up the scale that is then finally resolved to the 9th(D).

The fact that the pentatonic scale is a bit unusual in the construction makes it possible to get away with using it as a melody in the most basic form as a sort of enriched arpeggio.  

Putting some diatonic chords to use

The 2nd example starts with a Dm7 descending arpeggio. From here it continues with a short scale run. 

On the G7alt the melody is first the G7(#9) quartal voicing and then a Eb augmented triad in inversion.

The line resolves to the 3rd(E) of Cmaj7.

The upper-structure triad

This example makes use of the Eb major triad as an upper structure on the G7alt.

The opening on the Dm7 line is constructed first from an F major triad followed by an Am pentatonic scale fragment. On the G7alt the line is an embellishment of an Eb root position triad followed by a small scale run that resolves to the 3rd of Cmaj7.

Working with these altered or modified pentatonic scales

When you work on using this pentatonic scale it is useful to try to tap into some of all the things you already have in your system with normal pentatonics. There is a lot of tips and ideas already explored on guitar in several styles using pentatonic scales after all. 

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Pentatonic Scales – Melodic Minor – Altered Scale

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3 Awesome Ways from Music Theory to Music

In this video I will go over 3 Music Theory Ideas that I use all the time in my own playing!

Why learn Music Theory?

Learning music theory is of course a part of learning guitar. Jazz Guitar especially is often considered theory heavy, but in fact you can really easily start using some of your theory to make music. If you apply the things you learn you will remember them better and get more out of them so that is certainly something you should consider in your Jazz Guitar Practice.

In this video I will go over 3 theoretical ideas and then show you how you can directly turn them into music and hopefully it will give you some more ideas that you can add to your jazz guitar improvisation or compositions.

The Key and the Chords

All the examples I will use in this lesson are in the key of C major and I will demonstrate each idea on both a Dm7 and a Cmaj7 to give you some material to work with,

1. The Arpeggio from the 3rd of the Chord

So the first thing we can look at is how to come up with some more arpeggios to use over any chord that we have to solo over. In most cases the arpeggio from the 3rd will work as a great sound on top of the chord.

The Dm7 chord and it’s 3rd

In Example 1 I’ve written out a Dm7 and an Fmaj7 arpeggio. As you may know F is the 3rd of a Dm chord.

If you compare the Dm7 and the Fmaj7 arpeggio you get this:

Dm7 D F A C  
Fmaj7   F A C E

And as you can see the two arpeggios have the same notes except we are playing an E (which is the 9th ) instead of the root.

A lick using the Fmaj7 arpeggio over a Dm7 chord might be something like this:

The Cmaj7 and the Em7 arpeggio 

In a similar way we have an Em7 on the 3rd of Cmaj7

Again we can look at how these compare:

Cmaj7 C E G B  
Em7   E G B D

An example of a guitar lick with this idea is shown below in example 4.

Notice how I use both Cmaj7 and Em7 arpeggios in the line. It is important to combine new ideas with the vocabulary you already have!

 2. If m7 Then Minor Pentatonic

The second idea is that whenever we have a m7 chord then we can use a minor pentatonic scale to solo over it.

The Dm and the Dm pentatonic

The m7 arepggio is almost the same as a minor pentatonic scale as you can see in the table here below:

Dm7 D F   A C
Dm Pentatonic D F G A C

This is probably also easy to see from this comparison:

Since the difference is only the G, which is the 11th of D and sounds great over the Dm chord then we can use this idea to make pretty modern jazz licks like example 6:

The Cmaj7 and which pentatonic?

Cmaj7 is of course not a m7 chord, but we do have a m7 on the 3rd of the chord: Em7.

This gives us the pentatonic scale shown below:

 The E minor pentatonic scale is 3 5 6 7 9 if you relate the E G A B D to a C root. All great sounds over a Cmaj7.

A guitar lick using this idea could be something like example 8:

3. Adding Chromatic Leading notes

The third idea is to add chromatic leading notes to the arpeggio. Since the chromatic notes are resolved to a chord tone immediately this is something that we can easily apply to a melody.

The Dm7 and some leading notes

In example 9 I have written out a Dm7 arpeggio in one octave and then in the next bar the same arpeggio but now with a chromatic leading note before each note.

I would not recommend that you use all of the leading notes all the time. It is easier to use one or two to get a more smooth lick.

A guitar lick with this concept is shown in example 10. Notice how I don’t add that many leading notes, and one of them is also diatonic so you almost miss it!

The Cmaj7 can be lead on as well

If we try to do the same with the Cmaj7 then we get the arpeggio followed by the arpeggio with leading notes as shown in example 11:

Applying this to a line is shown in example 12:

In the example above you can see how I am combining all of the three ideas: Leading notes, Arpeggio from the 3rd and Pentatonic scales. As I mentioned above it is important to combine as many things in your playing as possible, and especially to combine new ideas with the things you already know so that you can use it in your jazz improvisations.

Turn Your Theory in to Practice!

As you can tell there are great ways to directly turn theory knowledge into lines and by understanding the basics of chords and scales you can already do so! I hope this lesson gives you some ideas to dig a bit further in exploring the possibilities from the theory you know!

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

3 ways to turn music theory into guitar licks

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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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:


If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you want to hear.

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Do you really know the pentatonic scale?

Most guitarists learn the Pentatonic Scale as one of the first things they ever learn on the guitar, and most of the time it is not a scale that we think too much about when we use it. It’s just the pentatonic scale and it’s something that is in our ears and fingers for years. And that is even if we are already for the rest playing music with extended chords, altered dominants etc.

In this lesson I am going to take apart the pentatonic scale and look at some of the things that you can find in there since that might yield some new ways of using it by combining what you know of the pentatonic scale and what you know about improvising with chords and arpeggios.

The Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale that I will spend time on in this lesson is this D minor pentatonic scale:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 1

If you try to remember all the exercises you have done in a pentatonic scale you will probably find that they are all sequences and groups of notes (3 and 4 are very common) more than they are praciticing specific structures that could be seen as a chord.

Diatonic chords in the Pentatonic scale

In a major scale we create chords by stacking diatonic 3rds. A diatonic third is basically a just a note followed by the note 2 steps higher in the scale. If we build chords in the scale like this we get this scale exercise:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 2

To get a better overview of what these arpeggios are you can play them as chords (the pentatonic scale is very forgiving with it’s 2 note per string fingerings) and that will give us the following set of chords that are “diatonic triads” in the pentatonic scale.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 3

As you can see the “triads” that we build are almost never consisiting of actuall 3rd intervals and especially the 4th is much more present in the chords which is why we get stacks of 4ths (the sus chord inversions).

The chords we have are then Dm, F, Gsus4, Csus4, Dsus4 which you could consider the diatonic triads in the scale.

Even if it is possible to play this in a position like I did in example 3 it is very useful both for comping and for using them as arpeggios to practice these on a string set like shown in example 4:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 4

It is worth while to keep in mind that if you can use the pentatonic scale to play a solo over a chord then probably the chords in example 4 are good for comping over that chord. Maybe try out example 4 over a Bb bass note to get a Bbmaj7 sound.

Open voiced diatonic chords

Now that we have 3 different types of chords: major, minor and sus4. We can start getting more out of the chords by playing them as open voiced triads. The easiest place to start with making open voiced triads is to take example 4 and then lower the 2nd note an octave. If you do that you will get the following chords:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 5

With open voiced triads you get a lot out of inverting them, because they contain a lot of quite large intervals. To just cover that I’ve written out a set of inversions for each type of the open voiced triads:

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 6

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 8

Practicing these open voiced triad inversions is a great thing to put to use with pentatonic scales and they are also great for right hand accuracy and technique since they contian a lot of irregular string skips.

If you want to check out open voiced triads in more detail you can also have a look at this lesson: Open Triads in Solos

Shell voicings in the pentatonic scale

One way to think of the D minor pentatonic scale is to think of it as a Dm7 arpeggio with an added G. Since the Dm7 chord is to be found in the scale we can of course also use a Dm7 shell voicing and try to play that through the scale.

I have written this out in example 9. The most logical starting point seemed to be the standard Dm7 shell voicing in the 5th fret. From There I take it through all 5 degrees of the scale to get some other voicings. Some of the voicings have nice seconds in them and can be put to good use in any situation where Dm pentatonic is an option.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 9

If you want to know more about using shell voicings as arpeggios you can also check out my lesson on this subject: Shell Voicings as Arpeggios

A few examples

All three examples are basic II V I progressions in the key of C, so Dm7, G7alt and Cmaj7. They should illustrate how you can use some of the arpeggios and structures cover in the first part of this article.

The first example is using the open voiced triads, and more or less just playing the first two arpeggios from example 5, which are a Dm and then an inversion of a Csus4 (or an open voiced Fsus2 if you will). From there the line descends down the scale and continues to a G7 alt line that is based around an AbmMaj7(9) arpeggio that then is resolved via the Ab to the 5th(G) of C.

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 10

Using the “diatonic triads” from example 2 in a similar basic way is also a very useful. In the 2nd line I start of with an A and then go into the F major 2nd inversion and G sus 4 triads from example 2. On the G7alt the line is using the Bb min pentatonic scale. First a stack of 4ths from Bb, which would be the same as the Dsus4 triad in example 2.  Fromt here it descends down the scale and resolves to the 7th of Cmaj7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 11

The third example is mixing up the open voiced  triads and stacks of 4ths. First an open voiced Csus4 triad followed by a Gsus4 triad. From there it continues with a basic line on G7alt that is build around an AbmMaj7 arpeggio that via an chromatic approach resolves to the 5th(G) of Cmaj7

Do you really know the pentatonic scale ex 12

Some of the chord names that I end up using in this lesson like the Gsus4 and the Dsus4 are maybe not the best names to describe the sound that you have at your disposal with these arpeggios, but it is still very worth while to use this approach to get some new arpeggios and melodic structures out of the pentatonic scale. By looking at it in the same way we would the major or melodic minor scale.

I hope that you can use the material that I went over here to get some new ideas and make some good surprising lines using pentatonic scales.

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Get the PDF!

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Do you really know the pentatonic scale

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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Pentatonics part 2 – II V progressions

In this lesson I want to demonstrate how you can use different pentatonic scales on a major II V, what kind of sounds and melodies it gives you and how I use that in solo lines.

The Scales

All the examples in this lesson are made on this II V I in Bb Major. Since I already made this lesson on what scales you can use over the I chord: Pentatonics Part 1 – Maj7 Chords I am not going to spend too much time on that.

I am also assuming that you have checked out pentatonic scales in different positions and keys, so I won’t go into that part of the technique involved.

Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 1

In a major scale you have 3 diatonic minor pentatonic scales (You can try to build them if this is news to you, that’s a really good exercise for theory and getting an overview of the scales). The scales are on the II, III and VI degree of the scale, so in Bb that gives us C minor, D minor adn G minor pentatonic.

For the II chord in the progression I have chosen these two scales: C minor and G minor. C minor is fairly obvious since it is the Cm7 arpeggio with an added 11. The G minor scale is the same notes as the C minor except it has a D instead of an Eb.

Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 2

You can also use the Dminor pentatonic scale on a Cm7 chord, but in this progression where the chords are moving quite fast and has a direction the A in the D minor scale is not so easy to use and I have therefore decided to omit it. In a modal situation where you have a Cm sound for a longer period of time it can work fine.

The V chord has 2 obvious options in the C minor pentatonic and the D minor pentatonic. The C min yields a sort of a F7sus4 sound, but it will work on a normal F7 as well. D minor pentatonic is also F major pentatonic so that will for that reason work just fine. I have omitted the Gm scale because it does not contain the A and the Eb which is the core of the F7 in this example.

Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 3

T he third option, Abm pentatonic works as an F7alt sound. F7 altered is F# or Gb melodic minor and the only pentatonic scale contained in that is Ab pentatonic. Which also happens to be the major pentatonic scale of B, the tritone substitution of F.

Putting it all together

Part of what I find useful about using pentatonic scales like this is that the melodies you get when you improvise with them are not the typical hardbop vocabulary consisiting almost only of 2nds and 3rds. In that way it is a nice change from other ways to come up with lines.
Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 4

The first example is using the Cm pentatonic on the Cm7 chord and the Dm7 on the F7 chord.

On the Cm it starts with an Eb major triad and moves on to a stack of 4ths, which is infact also a Diatonic chord of the Pentatonic Scale. On the F7 I play a melody which is almost a sequence of 4 notes in the scale before resolving to the 5th(F) of Bb.

Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 5

In the 2nd example the Cm line is pretty much a run down the C minor pentatonic. On the F7alt it is first an Abm7 arpeggio followed by a four note scale run resolving to the 5th of BbMaj7. The Cm7 line and the last part of the F7 alt line is a good example of how a pentatonic scale run in this context  will work as a melody because it is not placed in it’s “normal” surroundings.

Pentatonics part 2 - II V progressions - ex 6


A very nice “counterpoint” trick you can apply to a II V I with pentatonics is that you can have chromatically ascending scales over the chords which sound like they are somehow resolving down. In this case you’d get the following scales: Cm7 (Gm) F7alt (Abm) Bbmaj7 (Am). I use this kind of thinking often when I am trying to use pentatonics because you can often make scales move in other ways than the chord and it can be a good effect in the melody.

It opens up with a stack of fourths which (to me) has sort of an Allan Holdworth flavour to it, maybe because of the string skipping and wide intervals. It then descends down the scale. On the F7alt I am again using the Abm pentatonic. The line starts with an Abm7 arpeggio and then moves on to a Gbsus triad. The Abm is resolved to an Am pentatonic line on the BbMaj7. The first part of that line is a standard “thirds” exercise in the pentatonic scale followed by an Am7 arpeggio before it ends on a D.

I hope you can use some of the ideas that I went through here to make your own lines, and maybe get some more mileage out of some lines you thought you’d stopped using.

As always you can download a PDF of the examples here:

Pentatonics part 2 – II V progressions

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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

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How to convert theory and technique exercises to solo lines

This post comes from a conversation I had with Træben drummer Haye Jellema after a concert. We were talking how a lot of (famous) books contain only information but no or almost no guidance in how to actually internalize it. Other books will contain too many exercises that focus on the technical execution rather than actually applying it. I’d like to try to demonstrate one of the ways I study a theoretical or technical exercise to get it into my playing.

Here’s a video of me practicing improvising on a minor blues in C. If you listen you can hear that I sometimes pick an idea and work with it while soloing, so I am using what I play as a way of creating the next thing I play (try listening around 0:18 or 1:45 for two clear examples). This makes the solo more like a connected whole and not just a bunch of isolated ideas after each other. To me it is important that you learn the stuff you practice in such a way that you can apply it to what fits in that moment in your solo, and I’d like to explain how I practice towards that. Try to keep in mind that I am trying to describe an approach or a concept so for this lesson the material in the examples is less important than the way that I study it.

For now I’ll concentrate on going from an exercise to a melodic idea in a solo. Working on specific skills to manipulate melodic ideas or licks while playing is for another lesson.

Even if I demonstrate this in a jazz harmony situation it is in fact the same for all genres of music so the same concept would apply to a blues or a heavy metal solo.

Composition is improvisation slowed down.

The first step is to have choose a subject and then probably a smaller part within that subject, so if it’s a scale you might pick out an arpeggio (inversion?) or some other melody from the scale. It is of course important to pick something that  is strong enough and contains enough harmonic information for what you are trying to apply it to, f.ex it is probably not going to be easy to compose good lines using an Em7 arpeggio over Dm7 in a II V I in C.

As an example let’s try to look at using pentatonic scales in an improvisation, though I actually practice most things like this, rhythms, chords or improvising lines. Part of using pentatonics will be to be able to play the scalTheory to Solo line ex 1e, so I might have made an exercise like this:

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That’s a nice exercise which is pretty easy to play and if played in all keys you have a good overview of the neck with each pentatonic scale.

Let’s assume that we can play the exercise without too much trouble, and now the goal is to use it in a way that it will find it’s way into our improvisational vocabulary.  This process should involve:

  • Finding ways to make good sounding lines with the exercise over a chord
  • Connecting lines to the vocabulary you already have so that it becomes a natural part of it
  • Explore in which contexts it is a useful tool, which notes in the exercise fits which chord etc.
  • Getting the melodies of the exercise into your ear and fingers

The first part of that process is to compose lines. If you are composing you can go back and change a phrase or start over so it sounds good, and there is no pressure by staying in time and keeping track of a form to distract you from hearing what the line sounds like and judging if you think it sounds good. Taste is also an underrated tool in playing and practicing, but that is another story….

It is possible to compose lines and write them down to play or analyze later, but personally I almost never do that. To me the emphasis is in constructing lines that sound good and practicing that process which in this case is connecting the exercise to my other lines. Writing it down does not really serve a purpose.

I usually just spend a bit of time doing this on a II-V-I-IV or similar. I also don’t try to control how much time I spend on this, but mostly I’ll be busy with making lines and then try to play them in a song. Since I mostly play jazz and since jazz is generally an 8th note base music I tend to write lines in 8th notes with harmony changing every half or whole bar.I also often aim the melody at a target notes in the harmony on beats 1 and 3 so that the chord change is clear. If I try to make the melody go towards the target it often sounds stronger and more logical.  I might write a bit about this approach to constructing lines later but it is as far as I know an approach taught by HaL Galper called forward motion.

So for me this is not a very structured approach, but it is the best way I’ve found to get new melodic devices into my improvisation.

I guess the examples hereunder are more to give a complete picture of what I’d do with an exercise like this.

I transcribed the first line I play in the example, after that I just try to use the exercise over the turnaround. Since having the harmony there is a bit clearer I did record it in time and with a backing track. The second example is the same idea except without the background and it is rubato, which is probably closer to how I mostly practice this.

Theory to Solo line ex 2

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So this is an example of how I work and how I integrate ideas from exercises into my playing, there’s nothing magical about it but it is a process that many people use but for some reason is not that often described.

I hope you like it, and feel free to leave a comment on your own approach etc.