Song 5

  1. Pentatonic scales
  2. Penthology - Syncopation
  3. Penthology - Pitch Profiles
  4. Penthology - Scales to use
  5. Phrasing - Syncopation
  6. Tapping the beat with two feet
  7. Practice - Major Pentatonic scale
  8. Session Materials


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S 5.1 - Pentatonic scales

If you have followed other Jazclass Courses or read any of my books you know that the pentatonic scale is one of my favourite subjects.
And why not ? It is after all the oldest scale in the world and appears in just about every musical culture on earth.
I will here just briefly introduce the scale. Refer to my other material for further explanations of this scale.

The major pentatonic scale consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th note of the major scale.
Or put differently, it is a major scale without its 4th and 7th note. This makes it a 5-note scale, hence the name "pentatonic".

Audio 5.1

The most obvious use of the major pentatonic scale in improvisation is over the major triad, or major 6th or major 7th chord.
The pentatonic scale is used in several other situations we will look at in this course.

Here a very subtle application of this scale over major chords.
Instead of using the major pentatonic scale for the root note of a major chord, use the one that start on the 5th of the major chord.
For example for the F major chord (triad, major 6th or major 7th) use the C major pentatonic scale.

Audio 5.2

All possible chord tones are in the scale except F, the root of the chord. This is its very attraction, all notes sound beautiful over the chord, but the listener is waiting to hear the root note, but it never comes. This builds a very subtle tension effect.

This idea is demonstrated in the song Penthology.

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S 5.2 : Penthology - Syncopation

Penthology is a 16 bar long song in AABA format.
Each section is only 4 bars long, instead of the 8 bars for most songs (like @Paradise.au).

The first thing to notice is that the rhythm pattern is the same for each of the four 4 bar phrases.


The second point that stands out is its high degree of syncopation.


All isolated notes are located on offbeats (also called "upbeats") shown in red above.
There are two short note segments in each phrase, one starts on an offbeat, the other on a downbeat (in blue).
When playing this song make sure this downbeat segment (see arrow above) starts exactly on the downbeat. It forms the only contrast against all the syncopations.

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S 5.3 : Penthology - Pitch Profiles

The repeated 4 bar rhythm pattern forms a uniting 'theme' for this song.
To create variety I have used two musical devices, pitch variation and variation in tonality.

As in the previous song (@Paradise.au) I have created different pitch profiles for the A sections (now 4 bars long) and the B section.
In the A section the pitch profile has a high mountain in the first half of the phrase which descends to a low plain towards the end.

In the B section the phrase starts on a low pitch and gradually climbs towards a high pitch end.


Very simple and very effective.
As you become more skilled in improvisation it becomes important to know where your phrase is going to end.

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S 5.4 : Penthology - Scales to use

The second element of interest in Penthology is the use of pentatonic scales.

For the three A sections I have simply used the G major pentatonic scale over the G chord.

For the Bridge on the other hand I have used the C major pentatonic scale over the F chord.

Audio 5.3

This creates the tension (explained above) caused by not hearing the root of the chord (F) in the melody (or improvisation).

When you listen to this song you may notice that this effect also enhances the following A section, because here the tension is released by finally hearing the chord root tone (now G) again.

Follow the usual practice routine for this song. Especially in this song, for the long 8 bars of continuous G chord make it hard to judge when the second A section ends. The standard practice routine will help you to judge this distance better.

For each chorus in the Play-a-Long track for Penthology the bass plays the first 8 bars in twos, and the second 8 bars in fours (walking bass). This will help you to keep track of where you are in the song.

Use the G major pentatonic over all G chords, and the C major pentatonic over the F chord throughout your improvisation.

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S 5.5 - Phrasing : Syncopation

Syncopation is the bread and butter ingredient in all blues and Jazz music. You should therefore have a good grasp of this rhythmic device.

Syncopation is the effect of rhythmic surprise, where the natural accents in music are shifted to unexpected ('surprise') positions.

The most prominent natural accents in music always occur on the 1st and the 3rd downbeat of a 4/4 bar. In Jazz these accents are shifted to the 2nd and 4th downbeat positions (Jazz drummers often accent these with the bass drum) and to any of the offbeat (or 'upbeat') positions.


The syncopation effect in Jazz is created in two ways.

  1. by shifting notes sideways on the stave, usually a half beat in time.
    This creates an anticipated syncopation, when the note is heard earlier than expected,
    or delayed syncopation, when the note is heard later than expected.

  2. by accenting offbeat notes or notes on the downbeats 2 and 4.

Focus this session on note displacement to create syncopation.

I have included one page with rhythm patterns for you to work on.
Audio 5.4 plays each line (= two 2 bar rhythm patterns) twice.

Make up some more patterns yourself, all songs in the Improvisation 2 are good source material. You can also extract patterns from transcribed solos of famous players. The Charlie Parker Omnibook is a good source for excellent phrase material to analyse and study.

Use rhythm patterns in three ways.
  1. clap the rhythm with your hands while tapping the beats with your foot.
    (We spent many hours doing this at the Jazz College. It is very good for developing your Jazz idiom.)

  2. play the rhythm patterns on your instrument using one note only.

  3. play rhythm patterns as per recommended song practice routine.

You can use any of the Improvisation 2 play-a-long tracks working on this.

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S 5.6 - Tapping the beat with two feet

Years ago one of my Jazz teachers got me into the habit of tapping the rhythm with two feet. This helps to keep track of where you are in a bar.

  • My left foot always touches the floor at downbeats 1 and 3.

  • My right foot hits the floor at downbeats 2 and 4.

  • My brain is usually capable to work out the rest.


You may need to practise this method at first, but once mastered it is quite useful, especially for reading difficult music and in syncopation practice.

I also believe that this way of tapping beats helps to maintain a steady even rhythm, as the feet movement simulates our walking action which (at least when sober) is one of the most regular body movements.

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S 5.7 - Practice : Major Pentatonic scale

Practise the major pentatonic scale in all keys.
Cover a range of at least an octave and a half as on the sheet music provided.

You can use the Circle of Fifths Play-a-Long track for major chords and scales (4 bars each).
Repeat each scale before moving on to the next one.

Audio 5.5

Pianists alternate fingering patterns of 1 2 3 with 1 2 in such a way that the thumb always falls on a white note (see the Scales & Arpeggios Book).

Pianists can play the tonic major chord for each scale in crotchets in the left hand.

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S 5.8 - Session Materials

ItemMidi filesSheet music
PenthologyDemo P-a-L C instr.Bb instr.Eb instr.
Easy Key for Bb instr. (G)E-Pal 1C instr.
Easy Key for Eb instr. (G)E-Pal 2C instr.
Major pentatonic scaleDemoP-a- Lp.1p.2
Rhythm Patterns DemoRP 1Blanks

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© 2003 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)