Pentatonic Chemistry Set

Interesting Reactions

chemistryOne of the great toys I had as a boy was a chemistry set, the kind you can’t buy for kids anymore because they are far too dangerous. Some of the experiments had exotic powders and strange chemicals and some would use regular household things like salt, water, rubbing alcohol or what have you.

In this lesson we are going to take pentatonic box patterns and experiment with using in different situations, combining them with chords in unusual ways to obtain some interesting reactions, just like I did with my chemistry so many years ago.

Major vs. Minor Pentatonic

Earlier in this course we learned that, in any key, both the major pentatonic & minor pentatonic can share the identical, first choice “box pattern” fingering. In the animation to follow, an interesting and almost stunning effect is achieved through relocating the pattern. The shape of the relocated pattern does not change. The sound, note names, and musical application of the relocated pattern do dramatically change.

In the next example, the same fingering pattern, has been properly shifted or transplanted, to create two distinct, unique and virtually opposite sounds against the same exact background. This simple trick is a favorite and most useful trick in any professional lead guitar arsenal.

This example gives us a glimpse into the type of thinking and playing we are going to explore in this lesson, combining pentatonic scales with chord progressions in interesting, advanced and unusual ways.

Chord – Scale Relationships

For a chord or series of chords based on a C major or C dominant 7, the C major pentatonic scale will yield a bright, happy or sparkling sound. Note that all the tones in the C major pentatonic scale are the common and most harmonious, ‘inside’ notes drawn directly from the C major scale itself. The C major pentatonic scale is an easy to use and very tuneful cousin of the C major Scale.

For a chord or series of chords based on a C major, C minor or C dominant 7, the minor pentatonic scale will yield a funky, rockin’, bluesy or ‘bad ass’ sound. Note that two of the C major Scale notes have been altered, the 3rd is now a flat 3rd and the 7th is now a flat 7th. These altered notes are account for the scales distinct personality and unique sound effects.

A Unique And Special Scale

In the world of chord scale relationships, pentatonic scales hold a special place in the sounds associated with modern music and guitar playing in particular. It is the only example of a minor type scale, a minor pentatonic in this case, being accepted by and fitting over a progression based on a major chord sound.

Theory Review

Below is the theoretical information you need at your fingertips concerning the minor pentatoninc scale, the more musically literate and informed, the more ideas you will think of, your creativity will be enhanced and you will be a better guitar player. It’s a case I have been prosecuting for the entire 25 lessons in this course.


Musical Examples

When thinking of pentatonic scale selection and deciding which type of scale to base your phrases and longer solos on, you must first decide which type of sound you wish to create, what the general overall effect and musical flavoring will be. You want a sound that sound fits and is appropriate to the song. As the focus of this lesson is thinking of pentatonic scales, your first and most obvious thought patterns are:


Of course, you must first determine the key of the song. This example below is a generic sounding rock groove based on the key of C major or cadencing to a C major chord. It’s a “bare bones” track,-one thats wide open and doesn’t demand one particular treatment of the other. It will accapt either pentatonic soloing approach depending on the sound and feeling you want to add to the song.

I – IV – V Rock Song: Minor Pentatonic Treatment

Below is an example of straight forward, meat and potatoes, I – IV – V, rock and roll guitar song. The chord in the progression is C, therefore some type C scale is required for the solo. In this case I opted for that well known, gut- bucket, kick ass, rock lead guitar sound. In order to obtain that sound I used the C minor pentatonic scale and married that scale to some very precise rhythms and careful note choices within the scale. A well prepared, professionally oriented player will know how to create and describe a variety of sounds.



So far, the most important and interesting idea in this lesson is arriving at a major pentatonic sound by shifting the widely known and used minor pentatonic box pattern, the most common shape in rock, pop, and blues soloing. By shifting the C minor pentatonic pattern down three frets a new fingering pattern for the C major pentatonic scale is the result. Of course the scale has another name, A minor pentatonic, which fits in nicely with our understanding of basic music theory because A minor is the relative minor of the key of C major. The fingering and shape of C minor pentatonic, position VIII, is exactly the same as A minor pentatonic position V. The fingering and shape of C minor pentatonic, position VIII, is exactly the same as C major pentatonic position V. You may want to read that again.

Blues Scales

Theory First

Blues scales are pentatonic scales with the addition of an extra blue note. In this lesson we will be discussing two blues scales:

  • The minor blues scale – a minor pentatonic scale with the addition of a flat 5 blue note.
  • The major blues scale – a major pentatonic scale with the addition of a flat 3 blue note. The major blues scale is also called ‘blues number 2.’

The blues scales can be easily studied with the diagram below.


Now let’s discuss the blues scale options. Any song or solo section which you feel calls for a major pentatonic scale will accept the major blues scale and it will give that melodic pretty sound just the right amount of bluesy soul, introducing just the right amount of additional emotion and feeling. The minor blues scale, or simply ‘the blues scale’, on the other hand has all the soul and blues feeling it needs with the b3 and b7 notes. The addition of the b5 blue note gives the minor blues scale a smooth and melodic quality -all of our guitar heroes use the blues scale to introduce that hip and cool sounding flow to their solos.

Musical Examples

Below is a funky one chord vamp based on a C7 which will receive a minor blues scale and major blues scale treatment. The solos written below are 8 bars in length and will work for any song or section of a song based on C7be it a blues, funk, rock, R&B or even jazz. After each of the solos, there’s eight bars of solo space for you to recreate the solo or simply play a solo just like it.

C7 Vamp: Major Blues Scale Treatment

My major blues scale example incorporates some very nice rests and syncopations into it’s catchy, repeated motif. Pay attention to the dynamics of the solo: the first note accented, the second is given a staccato treatment leading to a smooth, vocal quality created bypull offs, and tight vibrato. Also, I am note skipping and string skipping in carefully calculated ways between various notes within the pattern and not just playing the notes of the scale up and down in order.


You probably recognize that the C major blues scales shares a fingering with the A minor blues scale, it’s very interesting, but is easily explained by the fact that C major and A minor are relatives.

C7 Vamp: Minor Blues Scale Treatment

In the following the minor blues scale sounds exactly as intended; smooth and melodic. I am again employing the string skipping tactic of -skipping across a string entirely while still framing my thinking around the C minor blues scale pattern. Using and expanding on this idea of technique is a great way to get some very interesting and sophisticated musical phrases as well as avoiding ruts and dull scale recitations. Play along space is directly following the recorded solo, try to duplicate the solo and then play one just like it.


Although pentatonic scales can indeed be fierce and powerful, most serious and professional guitarists are careful not to overuse them -thinking of and playing only one type of scale sound will cause your soloing style to become narrow, predictable and dull. Tricks such as the major – minor connection explained in this lesson will enable you to create a new and different sounds while playing the comfortable, easy and forgiving box patterns. Now let’s really open the pentatonic chemistry set we discussed in the beginning of the lesson -another way to describe this concept may calling it ‘learning how to play in the wrong key’. It may sound tounge and cheek but its true, shifting the minor pentatonic scale to a different and unconvetional locatyion often yeilds some terrific musical effects.

Approaching A Chord From The 5th

For a solo based on a C7 or C minor chord sound in a rock, jazz, R&B, funk or blues setting a funky yet glassy and singing quality can be achieved by using the G minor pentatonic scale. This works quite nicely because all the notes in a G minor pentatonic scale, all of the notes are either chord tones or tensions and will sound good against a C7 or C minor chord sound. In other words, all the notes in a G minor pentatonic scale are musically compatible with the C7 or C minor tonality.


I call this approacging a chord from the 5th because G is the 5th note of C7 -the chord we are soloing over. Instead of playing a C minor pentatonic like one would expect I am using a G minor pentatonic, a scale buitar on the 5th note of C to acheive a haunting, sophisticated, ‘jazz fusion’ quality to my solo. The typical ‘hard core’ blues fock sound is eliminated because the b3 blue note is not in the scale, instead a sweet sounding D, the natural 9 colors the solo.

The chord progerssion takes a typical blues harmony approach by using dominant chords for the I – IV and V root notes of C. From a soloing standpoint, think of the entire track as having a C dominant 7 tonality.


Instead of immediately diving right in with a C minor pentatonic or C blues scale, this example explores a different way of dealing with a C7 tonality finding a sophisticated, fusion sound by using a G minor pentatonic pattern. Of course I was soloing and playing against the C7 tonality using a nice little guitar oriented musical device. The bottom line is that we now have an easy way to find hip and interesting notes not as readily found in basic guitar scales and box patterns.

Interestingly, a C minor tonality will accept the same treatment. Once again, the example below shows the sound created by this unconventional scale choice. The C minor sound is clearly established. However, as a means of carving some up-town, and novel sonic territory (playing hip notes or tensions) I chose the G minor pentatonic pattern instead of a more obvious C minor, C minor pentatonic or C blues scale.


Approaching A Chord From The 4th

By now you must get the ‘chemistry set’ idea, when approaching a C chord from its 4th, F -I wind up using an F minor pentatonic scale where my first instincts may be to use a C minor pentatonic. Although this flies in the face of convention, all the notes in a F minor pentatonic scale are either chord tones or tensions and therefore theoretically compatible with a C7 or C minor chord sound.


In the next example, the chord progression is a I – IV – V C dominant & vamp, while soloing I am thinking that I am in the C7 tonality. The solo gets a nice rock sound with flat 3 and 7 blue notes but the addition of the Ab, (G # or sharp 5) gives a nice dark and ‘outside’ type of musical quality to this application.


A song with a C minor tonality will also accept this F minor pentatonic treatment, it blends readily and easily because all of the F minor pentatonic notes are also scale tones in the key of C minor. The following example has the ‘outside’ sound of controlled dissonance because the scale contains the traditional b3 and b7 blue notes but gains an interesting quality by sharpening the focus on the F (11) and Ab (b6 – #5) notes found in the F minor pentatonic.

‘Outside’ playing styles are common in jazz, jazz fusion, progressive rock, modern blues and even traditional rock & roll. Playing ‘outside’ notes in a thoughtful, restrained and musical way will make your playing more expressive and memorable because outside notes are able to create extreme feelings of tension, movement and expectancy. In this case, the inclusion of the C natural minor scale tone of A flat or the #5 note, (A flat/ G sharp) adds that lifting, slightly outside augmented type of sound.


pproaching A Chord From The 7th

For a solo based on a C major tonality. or simply a C major chord sound in a contemporary setting, a sweet, sophisticated and very professional sound can be derived from the application of a B minor pentatonic scale. This works so nicely because all the notes in a B minor pentatonic scale are either chord tones or tensions in the key of C. In the groove below, the C major tonality is being established by switching between a C Major type chord and an A minor type of chord, a common compositional device and a good way to establish the key of C major.


This B minor pentatonic based solo employs the upper extension (the house) of the good old box pattern in the second line of the solo. The sharp eleven F# is never actually fretted on fret 14. Rather, the E note on fret 12 is bent up to the pitch of note on the 14 th fret -the F# note. This melodic device is used as an easy and interesting way to explore certain harmonies and interesting tensions associated with the C major tonality. Of course the key never changes but you are borrowing a pentatonic scale from another key in order to shed a new and interesting sound on the chord progression. Your take away is that this scale trick has a very unique sweet and light type of sound.


Acrobat PrinterPrinter Friendly Summary

Open this link to find a print and save summary of the lesson as well as play along tracks for practicing.

The Take Away

In this lesson we learned how to obtain new, and different sounds with the well known and widely used minor pentatonic box pattern. Pentatonic scales are easy to use, and just seem to fit nicely under the left hand and are very comfortable scales to play on the guitar. The common pitfall of this type of fingering is over use which inevitably results in a rut and therefore dull, lack luster or just plain boring guitar playing. This highly favored fingering pattern can be transplanted to various spots on the neck to achieve new and different sounds. These soloing devices can easily be remembered by thinking of different scales degrees on which to build box patterns. In the key of C these three new soloing devices are:

Approach from the 7th

B is the 7th of the C major scale -the result is a B minor pentatonic scale containing many interesting notes which may be sounded against a C Major tonality. The end result is a beautiful, sweet and light sound.

Approach from 6th

A is the 6th of the C major scale -the result is a A minor pentatonic scale which contains the same notes as it relative major, the C major tonality. The end result is a sweet yet strongly melodic and mellow major scale sound.

Approach from the 5th

G is the 5th of the C major scale -the result is a G minor pentatonic scale containing many interesting notes which may be sounded against a C dominant or C minor tonality. The end result is a sophisticated and modern sound reminiscent of jazz fusion.

Approach from the 4th

F is the 4th of the C major scale -the result is a F minor pentatonic scale containing many interesting notes which may be sounded against a C dominant or C minor tonality. The end result is strong and blues oriented but still can have a slightly ‘outside’ sound, full of tension and reminiscent of a jazz fusion or progressive rock sound.


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