Using the pentatonic scale as chords

In this lesson I am going to construct some 3 note chord voicings with the pentatonic scale and use those chords to play altered dominants, maj7 and m7 chords.

You can get a lot out of this fairly simple approach to finding voicings for chord situations and it will work in songs with lots of chord movement as well as in modal situations!

Creating chords in the Pentatonic scale

The first thing we need to do is to create the chords in the scale. This is quite simple: You can play the scale on one string for the B, G and D strings and then stack the notes to get the voicings shown in example 1:

Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 1

You can use these 3 note voicings as chords whenever you would normally apply the A minor pentatonic scale: Am7, Cmaj7, Fmaj7, Bbmaj7, Dm7, D7sus4.

The examples at the end of this lesson I am demonstrating how to use these voicings on a II Valt I progression in the key of G major.

Now we have one we can use on the Am7, and we need to find one for the D7alt chord.

If you look at the D altered scale (which is the same notes as the Eb minor melodic) scale it is these notes: Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C , D. If there is a pentatonic scale in the Eb melodic minor scale it has to be a note where the diatonic chord is a m7 chord, and the only option is then the F. There we do have F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb which is the F minor pentatonic scale.

With the same principle to make voicings for the F minor pentatonic scale we get example 2:Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 2

These voicings can work well as chords for the D7alt.

For the Gmaj7  we have two options. As you may know G major contains three minor pentatonic scales: E, A and B. The Am pentatonic is not so useful since it contains the C, but both E and B will work fine.

I have chosen to use the B minor pentatonic scale because it has an F# so it is better at getting the maj7 sound across than the E minor pentatonics scale.

We get these voicings:

Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 3

Now we have voicings for m7, Dom7thAlt and Maj7 chords and can start making some music with the voicings.

Using the voicings on a II Valt I

It is fairly easy to start using these voicings. When we use these voicings we rely on using more chord voicings for each chord, and the sum of the notes will give us a complete picture of the sound of the chord.

You might have noticed that we have a scale for the D7alt that does not contain the 3rd of the chord (F#). There is a way to take a pentatonic scale that does contain the 3rd, but you need to use a minor 6th pentatonic scale, something I made a lesson on here:  Minor 6th Pentatonic scale But in this lesson I chose to use the good old pentatonic scale that we are all familiar with, maybe I can return to the min6th pentatonic scale in later lessons.

In the first example I start out with two different voicings from the Am pentatonic. The second you might actually recognize as the top of a standard Am7 drop3 or a 2nd inversion C major triad. The last voicing on the Am7 can be moved up a half step to become a chord from the Fm pentatonic scale which is what we use for the D7alt. The main thing I think about when making these lines is the top note melody, so the movement of that melody determines which chord I will use.

The D7alt is resolved from the Ab triad to a G6/9 voicing that then continues up to a D triad and finally resolves to a Gmaj7(13) voicing.

In the video I also play through the example slowly adding the root notes under the chords.

Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 4

The 2nd example is a fairly straight forward melody ascending up the Am pentatonic scale and again moving to the D7alt by moving up a voicing a half step. The melody on the D7 alt is using two identical voicings a whole step apart, and resolving those to a G6/9 by also shifting the voicing up a half step.

Since three of the voicings we get per pentatonic scale are stacks of 4ths we can very often get away with these half step shifts when changing chord which is a very smooth way to move from one chord to the next.

The lin concludes with a Bm triad that skips down and then ends on a 2nd inversion D major triad.

Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 5

Using the two stacks of 4th voicings that are a half note apart across more chords gives us the ability to make a movement and then repeat it on the next chord, which is what I am doing in the final example. The motief is stated on the Am7 and simply repeated on the D7 a major third lower. It is resolved there by shifiting up a half step to a voicing from the Bm pentatonic scale and continues down to a D major triad where it ends.

Using the pentatonic scale as chords - ex 6

When you start working on this it can be good to just try each of the sounds out over the root, so for example the Am pentatonic voicings over an A pedal or the F minor voicings over a D pedal and just get a bit of a feel for how each of those harmonized scales sound over that root.

I hope you can use this idea and the examples I went over here to create some new comping lines and sounds for your own playing.

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Using the pentatonic scale as chords

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