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Blues Lesson 6

  1. The Major Pentatonic scale
  2. The Minor Pentatonic scale
  3. Pentatonic Blues
  4. Sonnymoon for Two
  5. Improvisation
  6. Bad Man Blues
  7. Minor Pentatonic scale Ruler
  8. Quiz - Quiz Answers
  9. Exercises
  10. Lesson Material

    Library - Keyboard Comping

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BL 6.1 - The Major Pentatonic scale

In Lesson 2 we dealt already briefly with the Major pentatonic scale.

As the name implies (penta = 5) the pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale.
It can be formed from the major scale by simply leaving out the 4th and 7th note.

Audio 6.1

In F major :

Audio 6.2

In history this process actually happened in the reverse order.
The Major pentatonic scale was the first musical scale to appear in written records in history (in China, more than 3500 years ago). The scale can be traced back to just about every musical culture on earth.
Itr was the Greek Pythagoras who (around 550BC) added the two additional to form what later became our major scale.

The major pentatonic scale contains only whole-tone and minor 3rd intervals.


When Pythagoras filled the two gaps (between E-G and between A-C), in the C major pentatonic scale with the notes F and B, two semitone intervals (E-F and B-C) were created, which had never been heard before in the music of those times.
It took about 500 years for the human ear to appreciate these smaller intervals as pleasing sounds, and to adopt them as source for musical compositons through the various Greek modes.

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BL 6.2 - The Minor Pentatonic scale

The minor pentatonic scale uses the same notes as the major pentatonic scale, but has a different tonic note.

The C major pentatonic becomes the A minor pentatonic, simply by starting the scale on the A instead of on the C.

Audio 6.3

Likewise, by starting the F major pentatonic scale on the note D it becomes the D minor pentatonic scale.

Audio 6.4

The Eb major pentatonic becomes the C minor pentatonic scale.

Audio 6.5

The major pentatonic scale has a major sound.
This is for example expressed by the major chord that can be formed on the first note (tonic) of the scale.

Audio 6.6

The minor pentatonic scale on the other hand has a minor sound, reflected by the minor chord that can be formed on the tonic of the scale.

Audio 6.7

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BL 6.3 - Minor Pentatonic Blues

Blues improvisation with the minor pentatonic scale is the easiest improvisation possible, for you use only the one scale for the entire blues chord progression.

  • For the Blues in C - use the C minor pentatonic scale only.

  • For the Blues in F - use the F minor pentatonic scale only.

  • For the Blues in G - use the G minor pentatonic scale only.

The typical blues sound is sometimes described as a clash between major and minor.
This is exactly what the minor pentatonic scale improvisation achieves.
It is a minor scale played over dominant 7th (or major triad) chords.

In the Blues in C :

Scale = C Eb F G Bb C
C7 = C E G Bb F7 = F A C Eb G7 = G B D F

The C minor pentatonic scale contains the root and 7th note of the three chords.
But the E of the C chord and B of the G chord clash strongly with the Eb and Bb of the scale.
This effect is characteristic for the blues sound.

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BL 6.4 - Sonnymoon for Two

Sonnymoon for Two is a 4-bar Blues riff (presumably written by Sonny Rollins) which runs straight down the Minor pentatonic scale.

F Eb C Bb Ab F

Like C Jam Blues, the riff is played three times to cover a complete twelve bar blues chorus.


Make sure to play offbeat quavers followed by a rest staccato (The F in each 2nd bar on beat 4+).

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BL 6.5 - Improvisation

Play Sonnymoon for Two until you are thoroughly familiar with the melody, and can play it from memory.
Then start improvising using minor pentatonic scale tones only. For good improvisation it is crucial that you keep track of the chord progression, so that you at all times know which chord you are improvising over.

Playing "willy-nilly" up and down the minor pentatonic scale (or Blues scale) without awareness of the chord progression produces rather boring and directionless improvisation. So stay alert and know what is going on. (Even with the minor pentatonic scale you can relate to the chords by focusing on the root and 7th chord tones.)

Try to improvise unaided, or use Rhythm Patterns from previous lessons, or take a rhythm segment from any Jazz tune. Here is the Rhythm Pattern from Sonnymoon for Two.


Swapping 2s and 4s on the basic blues in F : complete improvisation

  • Take 1 (11 choruses) - : I play the first 2 bars of each 4-bar phrase, you play the following 2 bars.

  • Take 2 (11 choruses) - : You play the first 2 bars of each 4-bar phrase, I play the following 2 bars.

  • Take 3 (11 choruses) - : I play the first 4 bars, you play the following 4 bars.

  • Take 4 (11 choruses) - : You play the first 4 bars, I play the following 4 bars.

Improvise using minor pentatonic scale-tones only.     Bossa Nova use straight quavers only.

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BL 6.6 - Bad Man Blues

Bad Man Blues is a Blues in C.
Like Sonnymoon for Two, the melody line consists entirely of minor pentatonic scale tones.


Note the 3-note 'pick up' (anacrusis = incomplete 1st bar) at the start of the song.
The beats used in the anacrusis are missing in the final bar of the song. The anacrusis plus the final bar together form one complete bar. This way the song can be repeated smoothly, while the time signature and pulse of the beat remain intact.

There are also two quaver triplets in the last phrase.
(Triplet quavers are three notes equally divided over one full beat in a bar.)

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BL 6.7 - The Minor Pentatonic scale Ruler

You can use the Pentatonic scale Ruler shown below to find the notes of the two pentatonic scales in any key.


Align the Tonic note of the required scale on the Note Names strip with 1 on the appropriate Pentatonic scale strip. Then read of the note names opposite the scale tone numbers.

The example below is aligned to find the notes of the F minor pentatonoic scale.


The F minor pentatonic scale therefore is : F - Ab - Bb - C - Eb - F

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BL 6.8 - Quiz

Convert the following major pentatonic scales into minor pentatonic scales.

  1. G A B D E G
  2. D E F# A B D
  3. E F# G# B C# E
  4. Gb Ab Bb Db Eb Gb
  5. A B C# E F# A
  6. Bb C D F G Bb
  7. Ab Bb C Eb F Ab
  8. B C# D# F# G# B
Convert the following minor pentatonic scales into major pentatonic scales.
  1. G Bb C D F G
  2. Bb Db Eb F Ab Bb
  3. E G A B D E
  4. B D E F# A B
  5. Eb Gb Ab Bb Db Eb
  6. D F G A C D
  7. E G A B D E
  8. F# A B C# D# F#
Find the missing note for the following minor pentatonic scales
  1. F ? Bb C Eb F
  2. ? Eb F G Bb ?
  3. Eb Gb Ab Bb ? Eb
  4. A C ? E G A
  5. G# B C# D# ? G#
  6. C ? ? G Bb C
  7. ? G A C D ?
  8. ? Db Eb F Ab ?
Find the following minor pentatonic scales with the use of the 'Minor pentatonic Scale Ruler'.
  1. D
  2. Db
  3. Eb
  4. B
Find the following major pentatonic scales with the use of the 'Major pentatonic Scale Ruler'.
  1. E
  2. Ab
  3. A
  4. B
Write a 4 bar Blues riff using notes of the minor pentatonic only. (You can Email this to me for checking or comment if you like.)
Quiz Answers

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BL 6.9 - Exercises

Practise the minor pentatonic scale ascending around the Circle of 5ths as shown below.


Practise the scale also descending around the Circle, like this :


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BL 6.10 - Lesson Material

Pentatonic scale Ruler
Min. Pent. scale in all keys
Ex.8 - Minor Pentatonic scale - p.2 D1 D2 2 bars each key
Rhythm Patterns 9-16 Demo 9-12 Demo 13-16
Bad Man Blues (C) Melody Play-a-Long in C for Bb instr. in C for Eb instr.
Sonnymoon for Two (F) Melody Play-a-Long in F for Bb instr. in F for Eb instr.
Swapping 2s on Blues in F Demo me 1st you 1st
Swapping 4s on Blues in F me 1st you 1st

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Copyright © 2011 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.