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Improvising With The Pentatonic Scale

Improvising With The Pentatonic Scale

When it comes to improvising, the pentatonic scale is one of the most widely used scales. You hear it used from blues to jazz to country to heavy metal. I will be discussing some basic ways to get started on improvising with this scale.  

As a music teacher this is one of the first scales I teach, as it is the easiest to superimpose over chord changes. What makes this scale user friendly is that its comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th scale degrees from the major scale. Leaving out the 4th and 7th degrees give the pentatonic scale its sound, which in turn usually makes this the easiest scale to start learning how to improvise with. The best way to start learning to improvise is to pick two chords from a key and play a simple 2 bar phrase. Record yourself doing this for 4 or 5 minutes. Then go back and start playing the pentatonic scale from the same key the chord progression is from over the chords. You can start out by playing 1/4 notes with the scale and progressing to 1/8 notes. Listen carefully to how each scale degree sounds over the chords. An example of this would be to play C to G with a 1/4 note rhythm. Your pentatonic scale notes would C,D,E,G and A. 

 Some easy improvising concepts are call-and-answer and repeating yourself. Call-and-answer can best be compared to a phone call. You call some one and say “hello this is so-and-so” and then you pause and let the other person respond. How this relates to improvising is if you play a group of notes and then pause and respond with another group of notes that compliment the first group of notes. You can use long or short phrases and your call-and-answers should usually be similar in length. Repeating yourself is just that. If you play something you like, play it again and even a third time. These two concepts are good starting techniques to get you going on your long journey of learning how to improvise. 

Please feel free to contact us to come in a learn all about  improvising and anything else pertaining to music from one of our great instructors at the Colorado School of Music in Golden CO. 

Dean Cutinelli - Guitar, Bass Guitar, Ukulele & Mandolin
Colorado School of Music

Thanks for reading!

Dean Cutinelli


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