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Pentatonic substituitions

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Cinzel, Jul 9, 2019.

  1. Cinzel


    Jan 3, 2018
    Oporto, Portugal
    Hi everyone!
    Last week I've been to a workshop, and at some point the lecturer asked the following question:

    "For the C major pentatonic, what are all the substitutions you can make?"

    After some back and forth he ended up not answering the question in a concrete way and I was left with this in the back of my mind.

    I actually know that for a major pentatonic I can use both the pentatonic of the fifth and the second (up a tone) pentatonic as a substitution. Something tells me that I might be able to use the relative minor pentatonic also, but I'm not sure of that.

    Having said this, can someone help me with this? What are "all" the substitutions I can use for both the major and minor pentatonics?
  2. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    Well, you have the main parts covered. Although, it depends what kind of chord you are playing over. What you have mentioned applies to both major(7) and dominant chords, but in the latter case you may experiment with more "outside" options for that altered sound, thus using the major pentatonics starting on the b5(#11) degree, or even on the 7th. With minor chords, starting the MAJOR pentatonic scales on the b3, 4(11) and b7 degree would essentially be the same ones you mentioned in your post. However, you may experiment with those starting on b6 or b2 as well.
    If I may recommend a book, Ramon Ricker's "Pentatonic scales for jazz improvisation" covers this exact topic in more detail and in a very straightforward manner.
    Spin Doctor and Cinzel like this.
  3. Also there's Jerry Bergonzi's study of pentatonics. Volume 2 of his series, but it's becoming rare. The Ricker book is fine though. I suffer from the problem of having way too many books and not nearly enough time to get into them lol. It's best to just pick one good book and get through the whole thing.

    One thing to maybe be aware of is, if you can't do it already, before embarking on a detailed study of pentatonics, you should be able to manipulate all of the 5 pentatonic "modes"/shapes all up and down the neck from any starting note of the pentatonic. Many people "think" they know pentatonics because they can play a major and a minor pent. There's a bit more to it than that. So in that regard, I might suggest you start with an easier book. Maybe the Ed Friedland pentatonic book.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2019
    Groove Master likes this.
  4. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Yes you can used major or minor pentatonic over major and/or minor chords. The benefit of using major pentatonic scales over major chords is your melodic phrases. It is more suitable to play a major phrase over a major chord because pentatonics are based on patterns and it is too often easy to play licks instead of a musical idea. But it is exactly the same pool of notes.
    Whousedtoplay likes this.
  5. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    I know EXACTLY how you feel there ;-)
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Rick Beato has a good video on using multiple pentatonics over the same chord.

    GastonD likes this.
  7. AMp'D.2play

    AMp'D.2play Supporting Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Adam Nitti has a video on Minor Pentatonic Substitutions. He starts discussing the substitutions around the 3:28 mark:

    Jayme Lewis also did a video on the subject:
    GastonD likes this.
  8. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    If you understand the concept of chord substitutions and triad pairs the you will understand pentatonic substitutions.

    Here's how I view Pentatonic scales. They are essentially dressed up triads. If you take a Major Triad and add a Major Second and a Sixth you get a Major Pentatonic. From there it's kind of deciding what type of flavor you want. Say you're playing over a Major 7 chord and want a Lydian type of sound simply play a Major Pentatonic a whole step up, or a minor pentatonic a half step down. If you'r playing over a minor chord and want a Dorian type of sound you can play a minor pentatonic a whole step up or a Major pentatonic a whole step down. If you want a Phrygian type of sound play a Major pentatonic scale a half step up or a minor pentatonic a whole step down etc.

    Rev J
  9. Fire-Starter

    Fire-Starter Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2002
    Help please!

    In Adams video he discussed playing the C minor pentatonic scale over the C min cord starting from a different positions other than the root. C minor scale (C D Eflat F G Aflat Bflat C)

    When he started at the G using the SAME fingering we got G Bflat C D F....those are part of the C min scale and cool I get that part, But starting from D using the same fingering we get D Eflat G A C. This is where I am confused. The A is not part of the C minor scale at all, but A flat is. So why was A used here vs A-flat.
    I am sorry if this seems like a trivial question. Hopefully somebody can help me.


    NigelD likes this.
  10. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    It's for the guitar players but you could get some information about
    "superimposing" scales (including pentatonics).

    Pentatonic Minor Scale: Superimpose Scales over Progressions

    "B minor Pentatonic Scale and Am7 Chord
    Another cool pentatonic application is to play a B minor pentatonic scale against the Am7.

    This is an easy concept to apply since you’re only playing a scale one whole step (two frets) above the root of the chord.
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    There is no A-flat in a Cmin chord, so we are free to play either A-natural or A-flat without contradicting the information contained in the chord symbol.

    A-natural implies a Cmin6 or Dorian sound.
    Whousedtoplay likes this.
  12. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  13. Did you ever get an answer to your question? If not allow me. First off, none of this applies to walking bassline or stuff like that. So forget about what the chord symbols might say. This is about adding different notes, (sounds, colors, etc) to your improvisations. The overall point is to play the Same Minor Pentatonic Shape from different starting notes, over a C minor vamp. It's NOT playing a C minor pentatonic from different starting points.

    Now, the construction of a (natural) minor pentatonic is Root, b3, 4, 5, b7. That is the "shape" you always play.

    So in the case of D minor pentatonic, the notes are D, F, G, A, C and back to D. If you play these notes during a solo, over a C minor vamp, you end up adding the following tonal colors (notes) D = 9th, F = 11th, G = 5th A = 13th, C = Root. All of the notes you are playing are seen as being relative to the C minor vamp. It just creates a slightly different sound.

    That's all it's about. It allows you to access more information, using a technique that you theoretically should already know, i.e. you're just playing a minor pentatonic... Slide your hand around, play the same thing, make cool new sounds. Easy, peasy.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
    Rilence and Whousedtoplay like this.
  14. Fire-Starter

    Fire-Starter Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2002
    Thanks for the response all. It has helped, and sorry for the late response. :)

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