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Using The Minor Pentatonics Over a II-V Jazz Progression

The Justinguitar.com Jazz Guitar Lessons

Get creative with your Minor Pentatonics

I first saw this concept many years ago, gave it a quick try and couldn't make it sound any good so I left it alone as one of those things 'proper' jazz musicians can do but I couldn't. But in a recent surge in enthusiasm for jazz lead guitar I'm back exploring many of the concepts I once left behind and I'm finding this one particularly interesting and fun, and I think you might too.

So the idea is that you can use the Minor Pentatonic in different ways and make it fit over a whole II-V-I-VI sequence. The basic idea is that over a II-V-I-VI progression in C (Dm7, G7, CMaj7, A7) you would play A mP (minor Pentatonic), Bb mP, B mp and C mP!

Dm7
G7
CMaj7
A7
A Min Pent
Bb Min Pent
B Min Pent
C Min Pent

You crazy ol' fool! Why you gonna go done that?
So lets now look at the qualities of each of the notes in the Pentatonics in relation to the chord they are played over.

A Min Pent
A
C
D
E
G
Dm7 Chord
5
b7
R
9
4/11

Look at the notes found in the D Dorian Mode: D E F G A B C D (which is be the most common scale to play over a II chord) and you will see that by playing the A Minor Pentatonic Scale we're using the same pool of notes but leaving two notes out! The notes we're omitting here are F which though it is an important chord tone of the Dmin7 chord there's no harm leaving it out and the note B which is the 6th, again no problem leaving that out.

Bb Min Pent
Bb
Db
Eb
F
Ab
G7 Chord
#9
b5
#5
b7
b9

Now this is some seriously cool note choice. The G7 is 'functioning' because it's going to the C chord (see the lesson on Functioning Dominants) so it would commonly be altered using any combination of b9, #9, b5 and #5... and blow me down if using the Bb Minor Pentatonic doesn't hit all those funny notes we want but it ads in the b7 scale degree too which is an important chord tone. There are just two notes removed from the G Altered Scale (7th mode of Ab Melodic Minor) which are the note G and B, the root and third of the G7 chord. Now normally I would be targeting those chord tones to 'make the changes' obvious to the listener but in this context we're moving outside the normal harmony and trying to get something going that is a bit different. That the Minor Pentatonic contains so many great juicy notes over the G7 and it works so well, I think that a general rule could be:

Play a Minor Pentatonic up a Minor 3rd (3 frets) from a Dominant Chord for an Altered sound.

B Min Pent
B
D
E
F#
A
CMaj7 Chord
7
9
3
#11
6

The normal scale choice for a Major 7 chord is either Major (in this case C D E F G A B C) or Lydian Mode (C D E F# G A B C) so you can see right away that by using the B Min Pentatonic over the C Major Chord we are evoking a C Lydian tonality. To make this kind of line resolve I have found it useful to target the 3rd here (the note E), you don't have to of course but it can be nice to feel a little resolution is all the chaos! Using this Minor Pentatonic over the Major Chord in other situations can sound pretty cool too, so just remember that the Minor Pentatonic a semitone lower than the root of your Major7 Chord can be a funky option!

C Min Pent
C
Eb
F
G
Bb
A7 Chord
#9
b5
#5
b7
b9

The application here is the same as it was for the G7: a Minor Pentatonic Scale up a Minor 3rd interval from the root of the Dominant chord - we get all that same funky goodness!

The Big Mistake
Now the big mistake I made that I don't want you to make is attempting to play it like it's blues and pull out all your minor pentatonic licks. It will sound terrible, so don't do it!

So you need to think of it as a pool of notes to use, but not to treat those notes as you might if you were playing a blues - a good way to explore it and escape the blues cast is by using some Pattern Studies that jazz up the scale a bit, playing in 4ths, string skipping or any other kind of 'un-bluesy' thing you can think of.

Other helpful food for thought...
It can sound cool to anticipate the changes a bit and not always change scales exactly with the chords, especially this is a kind of outside idea it helps it sound less like a maths experiment if you sometimes change a bit early or late, try to let your ear guide you into using this tool to create some cool sounding lines and not be too driven by thinking - of course when you first try it you'll be thinking a LOT, possibly overloading, but after a bit of practice you should try and loosen up and let the flow happen.

Another thing to check out is to not always use the standard "Box 1" Minor Pentatonic Pattern, I found it easier to make musical sense of the concept by using other Patterns, doesn't really matter which, and you should probably start by exploring the Box 1 as it will be easiest!

 

Backing Track to practice with from Learn Jazz Standards

This Learn Jazz Standards channel has a load of very cool and useful backing tracks, like this one which you can practice the above concept with :) One bar each: Dm7, G7, Cmaj7, A7. Repeat for 5 minutes!

 

 

 


Lesson ID: JA-512