Lesson 4
The Minor Pentatonic scale

  1. The Minor Pentatonic scale
  2. Blues on Nimble Toes (Song)
  3. Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 16 to 20
  4. The Blues scale
  5. The Woodshed
  6. Blues Chord voicings for Keyboard
  7. The Pentatonic scale Ruler
  8. Quiz and Quiz Answers
  9. Practice Materials

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Im 4.1 - The Minor Pentatonic scale

The minor pentatonic scale is a mode of the major pentatonic scale. This means that it uses the same notes as the major pentatonic scale but it starts on a different note. This rearranges the position of the various intervals within the scale in
relation to the new tonic note.

By using the C major pentatonic scale but selecting 'A' as the Tonic (starting) note the A minor pentatonic scale is formed :

Audio 4.1

The scales sound distinctly different. Whereas the major pwentatonic sound bright and cheerful, the minor pentatonic evokes a dark, intimate mood.

The C major pentatonic scale has a major tonic chord : C   E   G (1 - 3 - 5)

The A minopr pentatonic scale has a minor tonic chord : A   C   E (1 - b3 - 5)

The F major pentatonic scale produces the D minor pentatonic scale :

Audio 4.2

Therefore : The tonic of the minor pentatonic scale is 3 semitones below the tonic of the related major pentatonic scale.

Over isolated chords you can use the :
  • major pentatonic scale over a major or dominant chord
    Use for example the C major pentatonic scale for : C , Cmaj7 or C7

  • minor pentatonic scale over a minor or minor 7th chord
    Use for example the C minor pentatonic scale for : Cm, Cm7

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Im 4.2 - Blues on Nimble Toes (Song)

One of the favourite applications of the minor pentatonic scale in Jazz improvisation is over the 12 bar Blues.

The Basic 12 Bar Blues chord progression in any key is :


The chords are either major triad (3-note) chords, or dominant 7th chords.
In C for example :

Audio 4.3

For improvisation use the C minor pentatonic scale over the entire Blues chorus.


There are distinct clashes between some of the scale tones with the three chords. But this exactly what the typical Blues sound is all about. It is as it were a battle between major or dominant chords and a minor scale.

Audio 4.4

Basic Blues in C : Swapping 4s.

  1. Track 1 (5 choruses) - : I play the first 4 bars, you play the following 4 bars.

  2. Track 2 (5 choruses) - : You play the first 4 bars, I follow.

    Improvise using the C minor pentatonic scale only.

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Im 4.3 - Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 16 to 20

The Blues is an excellent format to practice good phrasing in improvisation. I recommend you use it throughout this course and after it.


  1. Play the melody of Blues on Nimble Toes until you can play it from memory.

  2. Practise chord root tones until you can do it from memory.
    Also play chord root tones over some rhythm patterns.

  3. Play chord tones of dominant 7th chords in crotchets (1 beat notes) :

    Audio 4.3

  4. Then start improvising using chord tones only.

  5. Finally improvise using the C minor pentatonic scale only.

Triplet Quavers
The typical Jazz style has a distinct triplet quaver feel that underlies each and every beat. ('triplet quavers' means 3 notes evenly spaced over 1 whole beat.) The quavers (half beat notes) in a Jazz tune are played uneven (
swing style) reflecting the triplet feel.
  • All downbeat quavers are played for 2/3 of the beat

  • All upbeat (or 'offbeat') quavers are played for only 1/3 of the beat

Triplet quavers (3 notes spread over one beat) are played straight. That means each note of the triplet is the same length of 1/3 of the beat.

Triplet quavers create variety and excitement to the music. Practise them therefore in your improvisation.
Here are five triplet Rhythm Patterns to start with. You can split each pattern in 2 bar halves and use them on their own or combined with any other half. Make some patterns up yourself too.

Audio 4.5

I have used Rhythm Pattern 17 for the improvisation over Blues on Nimble Toes.

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Im 4.4 - The Blues scale

The Blues scale is a 6-note scale. It is derived from the minor pentatonic scale by adding just one note, the b5.

Audio 4.6

The extra note produces two semitones in the scale. This immediately destroys the pure pentatonic character. Instead it simulates the bending of notes characteristic of all blues vocalists.
The b3 (Eb), b5 (Gb) and b7 (Bb) are the so called blue notes in the scale.

In F :
Audio 4.7

The three blue notes in the F Blues scale are Ab, B and Eb

For improvisation use the Blues scale in the same way as the Minor pentatonic.
That is : use just the one blues scale over the entire Blues chorus.
  • For the Blues in C : use the C Blues scale.

  • For the Blues in F : use the F Blues scale.

  • For the Blues in G : use the G Blues scale.


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Im 4.5 - The Woodshed

Keep working on the five qualities of 7th chords. Once you have made some progress with them start using the Play-along.
The play-along track plays 4 bars for each chord, starting with the C chords, then in Circle of Fifths order.

C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G

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Im 4.6 - Blues Chord Voicings for Keyboard

Closed position chords are chords of which all chord tones fall within the span of 1 octave (or rarely one 9th). These chords are generally played in one hand.

When playing closed position chords in the left hand place them so that the lowest note of the chord falls within the range from Middle C down to A a 10th lower.
Chords played above this range sound tinny, they also interfere with the melody line. Chords played below this range sound muddy.

Audio 4.8
When playing closed position chords in the right hand place them so that they straddle or touch Middle C.
This leaves the left hand free to play bass notes, a boogie pattern or a walking bass line.

Essential Chord tones
When comparing the three most common 7th chord qualities : major 7th, dominant 7th and minor 7th you can observe that all three chords have the same root tone and 5th. Their differences in quality is therefore expressed by the difference in their 3rd and 7th chord tones.

Chord voicings for keyboard and guitar should therefore always include these two essential chord tones : the 3rd and 7th to express the chord quality, but they need not include the root and/or 5th of the chord. (In a small combo these chord tones are amply covered by the bass anyway.)

Shown below are three sets of basic chord voicings for the Blues in C.
In example a and b the root of the C7 chord and the 5th of F7 and G7 are left out. In example c the 5th of the C7 chord and roots of F7 and G7 are omitted.

All three sets can be played with the left hand. Sets b and c are suitable for playing in the right hand.
3-note voicings are especially good for electronic keyboards to keep the chords sounding clear and crisp.

Additional tones may be added to the two essential chord tones (3rd and 7th) to provide extra colour or tension to the (dominant) chord. In examples e and f below some 9ths and 13ths are added for this purpose.

The black note in examples e and f may be played or omitted at your own choice.

Here is a list of tones you may add to the two essential chord tones of the dominant chord.

Chord Essential Additional tones
D7 F# and C add any other note(s) except G (4th) or C# (7th)
G7 F and B add any other note(s) except F# or C
C7 E and Bb add any other note(s) except F or B
F7 A and Eb add any other note(s) except E or Bb
Bb7 D and Ab add any other note(s) except Eb or A
Eb7 G and Db add any other note(s) except D or Ab

Blues Chord Voicings for Keyboard

When you start to learn a song it is a good idea to play the left hand chords in steady crotchets (one chord on each beat). This helps you to play the right hand melody correctly.

Once you have that under control you can vary the left hand rhythm.
Use it for emphasis or to create a simple rhythmic counter melody to the right hand. Leave space where the right hand is busy, be more active where the right hand plays a long note or where there is a rest.

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Im 4.7 - The Pentatonic & Blues scale Ruler

The Pentatonic & Blues scale Ruler is an easy to use device to help you find the notes of the major- or minor- pentatonic scale in any key. Use the strips below to find the notes of the pentatonic scale in any key.


The notes for the Minor pentatonic scale are shown in blue. The added note for the Blues scale is shown in red.

Example : to find the E Minor pentatonic scale align E on the letter strip with (1) on the Pentatonic & Blues scale Ruler.


Now read the E minor pent. scale : E G A B D E (1 b3 4 5 b7 1)

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Im 4.8 - Quiz

  1. Convert the following major pentatonic scales into minor pentatonic scales.
    1. Bb C D F G Bb
    2. Ab Bb C Eb F Ab
    3. F G A C D F
    4. G A B D E G
    5. Gb Ab Bb Db Eb Gb

  2. Unscramble these minor pentatonic scales.
    1. F D A C G
    2. Bb F G C Eb
    3. C Eb Bb F Ab
    4. A E D B G
    5. C Bb G F D

  3. Convert these minor pentatonic scales into Blues scales by adding 1 note to each scale.
    1. D F G A C D
    2. Bb Db Eb F Ab Bb
    3. G Bb C D F G
    4. A C D E G A
    5. E G A B D E


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Im 4.9 Practice Materials

Blues on Nimble Toes Lead sheet Melody & Impro Play-along
Swapping 4s Track a Track b Demo
Rhythm Patterns Notation Demo
The Woodshed 7th Chords p.1 Demo Play-along
7th Chords p.2
Keyboard chord voicings
Ruler Pentatonic & Blues scale Ruler

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Copyright © 1997 - 2007 Michael Furstner.