Lesson 3
The Major Pentatonic scale

  1. The Major Pentatonic scale
  2. The Skyeboat Song
  3. Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 11 to 15
  4. The Woodshed
  5. The 7th Chords Ruler
  6. Quiz and Quiz Answers
  7. Practice Materials

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Im 3.1 - The Major Pentatonic scale

The major pentatonic scale is, as the name implies, a 5-note scale. It is the oldest scale in the world and can be traced back to the beginning of most musical cultures. It consists of the notes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the major scale. Or you can describe it as a major scale with the 4th and 7th note missing.
In the key of C :

Audio 3.1

In the key of F :
Audio 3.2

Because the 4th and 7th note are missing there are no semitones in the major
pentatonic scale.
Audio 3.3

This lack of semitones, and the acoustic relationship that exist between the notes of the scale give it a beautiful open and crystal clear tonality. It is therefore a great scale to use in improvisation.

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Im 3.2 - The Skyeboat Song

The Skyeboat Song is a Scottish tune.
The melody consists entirely of notes from the G major pentatonic scale.

Audio 3.3
Audio 3.4

I receive many requests for the lyrics of this song, here are they.
The chorus is played at the beginning and then after each verse.

Chorus :
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
Say, could that lad be I ?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye
Verse 1 :
Mull was astern
Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow.
Glory of youth
Glowed in his soul
Where is that glory now ?

Verse 2 :
Give me again
All that was there
Give me the sun that shone !
Give me the eyes
Give me the soul
Give me the lad that's gone

Verse 3 :
Billow and Breeze
Islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun.
All that was good
All that was fair
All that was me is gone.

Skye, Mull, Rum and Eigg are islands to the north of Scotland in the Hebrides.

The Skyeboat song : Swapping 4s.

  1. 1st chorus (32 bars) : I play the first 4 bars of each 8-bar segment, you play the following 4 bars.

  2. 2nd chorus (32 bars) : You play the first 4 bars of each 8-bar segment, I play the following 4 bars.

  3. Final A section (16 bars) : I play the first 4 bars of each 8-bar segment, you play the following 4 bars.

    Improvise using the E minor pentatonic scale only.

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Im 3.3 - Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 11 to 15

Observe that, like in Lesson 2, the Skyeboat Song features the I - VIm - IIm - V chord progression.

You have therefore three options for improvisation here :
  1. use chord tones
    (this reflects the chord progression)

  2. use the G major pentatonic scale throughout the song
    (this reflects the tonality of the pentatonic melody)

  3. use the G major scale throughout the song
    (this reflects the tonality of the chord progression)
Many Scottish tunes are based on the major pentatonic scale. So if you wish to preserve the Scottish character of the song you should take option a. But for improvisation practice I suggest you use option b. as well.

Improvisation practice :
  1. Play the song's melody until you know it from memory

  2. Play sustained chord root tones until you know them

  3. Play root tones in Rhythm Patterns

  4. Play chord tones in crotchets (1 beat notes)

  5. Improvise using Rhythm Patterns

  6. Finally improvise freely, but try to keep track of where you are in the song

Rhythm Patterns in 3/4
Audio 3.5

When playing a Jazz Waltz always play the quavers straight.
I have use Rhythm Patterns 13 and 14 on the improvisation demo of The Skyeboat Song.

Toetsie Tielemans used Patterns 13 and 15 in his famous Jazz waltz 'Bluesette'.

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Im 3.4 - The Woodshed

Well folks it is time to get into the chords. Here is the drill.
Jazz is predominantly based on five qualities of 7th chords. There are five basic qualities :

This is how they inter-relate, for the C chord qualities and as major scale note numbers in any key :

In old sheet music the symbol for half diminished chords (ø) is sometimes written as :   m7b5

In this Course we will mainly deal with major 7th, dominant 7th and minor 7th chords in the easy keys. The half diminished chord will feature prominently in Lesson 12.

If you are new to playing chords start with the major, dominant and minor qualities in the keys of A, D, G, C, F, and Bb. But eventually you should know all of them. Practise as follows :

Audio 3.6

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Im 3.5 - The 7th Chords Ruler

The Seventh Chords Ruler is an easy to use device to help you find the notes of the chord qualities in any key.

Align the Tonic note of the required chord on the letter strip with the '1' on the Seventh Chords Ruler strip, then read of the tones for each chord :

  • Imaj7 = 1 3 5 7

  • I7 = 1 3 5 b7

  • Im7 = 1 b3 5 b7

  • Iø = 1 b3 b5 b7

  • Io7 = 1 b3 b5 6

For example, to find the five chord qualities for the D align D on the letter strip with (1) on the Seventh Chords Ruler

Now read the D chords :
  • Dmaj7 (1 3 5 7) = D F# A C#

  • D7 (1 3 5 b7) = D F# A C

  • Dm7 (1 b3 5 b7) = D F A C

  • Dø (1 b3 b5 b7) = D F Ab C

  • Do7 (1 b3 b5 6) = D F Ab B

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Im 3.6 - Quiz

  1. Describe the major pentatonic scale

  2. What is the main characteristic of the major pentatonic scale ?

  3. Convert these major scales into major pentatonic scales with the same tonic note.
    1. G A B C D E F# G
    2. D E F# G A B C# D
    3. Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
    4. F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#
    5. A B C# D E F# G# A

  4. How many major pentatonic scales can you form using white notes of the keyboard only (C D E F G A B)

  5. How many major pentatonic scales can you form using the black notes of the keyboard only. (Gb Ab Bb Db Eb)

  6. Write out the chord tones of the five chord qualities for each of the following root notes.
    1. A
    2. D
    3. G
    4. F
    5. Bb
Remember the maj.7 chord consists of the note 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the major scale.


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Im 3.7 Practice Materials

Skyeboat Song Lead sheet Bb & Eb Scores Melody & Improvisation
Swapping 4s Play-along
Rhythm Patterns Notation Demo
The Woodshed 7th Chords p.1 Demo Play-along
7th Chords p.2
Ruler 7th Chords Ruler

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Copyright © 1997 - 2007 Michael Furstner.