Thursday, September 19, 2013

Penta and Tonic on the Rocks!

  Ok we all love pentatonic scales right?  When you first started diving into lead guitar playing or improvising I'm willing to bet the first thing you learned was a pentatonic pattern. We all know the blues box pattern that has been used by every player regardless of style preference.  The 5 note scale has been used in music for millennium for good reason, it has been scientifically researched that it is the most pleasing sound to us humans being.  Physically, they are easiest forms to learn on the guitar so super bonus!
  However... Let's face it, we sometimes yearn for a new harmonic sounds. I personally have been on this quest since if first picked up the instrument many moons ago.  Lucky for us seekesr of sounds there are so many palettes to choose from that we should never grow tired of our search.  Let's take a look at a way we can manipulate our basic pentatonic scale to better fit the harmony of certain chord types.  
  A major pentatonic scale contains the intervals 1,2,3,5,6. Which will work nicely over any chord containing a major triad(maj7 and dom7). But notice the 7th is not represented in the major penta scale. Let's say, just for fun, we raise the 6th up a 1/2 step to a b7. We then have a pentatonic scale(5 notes) that will address the sound of a dom7 chord quite nicely.  Since the mode that is most commonly used over a dominant chord is the mixolydian mode, I like to refer to this as a mixolydian pentatonic. You also may hear this refered to as an altered pentatonic scale(a bit of a generalization as there are a number of ways to alter penta tonics).  Ah but let's not stop there, let's take it one step further!
  There are different ways to use this "mixo penta" that actually step outside of the normal mixolydian sound. For example, try using it up a whole step from a maj7 chord.  This will now give you Lydian sound against that chord. Let's break it down...
  A D mixo penta contains the notes D,E,F#,A, and C. If we analyse those same notes against a Cmaj7 chord D=2(9), E=maj 3rd, F#=#4, A=6th and C=tonic. This is the same as a Cmaj penta but instead of the 5th we have a #4 and we all know that this note is the quintessential Lydian sound(maj with #4).  Kool!  So actually we don't need to retool our pentatonic to address the Lydian sound all we have to do is reuse our mixo penta up a whole step and it will already contain the alteration we need for that glorious Lydian sound. (Steve V. and Joe S. would be so proud)!  Ok let's see if we can find another application for our mixo penta...
  "Jeff is there way I can use this in my jazz improvising" you ask?  Well just so happens there is a really cool way you can reuse your mixo penta to address and alt dom7 chord. Let's take a look... 
   Most jazz is based off of the chord changes 2-5-1. The majority of jazz standards will contain these chords in at least one of the sections of the tune. Because of the tension created by the Tritone interval(b7 and maj3rd respectively) found in a dominant chord this create tension and resolution when finally resolving to the 1 chord. However, we can add even more tension to our 5 chord by adding alteration or tension notes not found in the key in said 2-5-1. These tension notes are b2(9), #2(9), b5 and #5 against our 5 chord. So let's say you are playin a 2-5-1 in the key of C. (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7).  Over our G7(5) chord if we play a mixo penta from the Tritone(b5) the we will get 3 of the 4 tension notes that give us an alt dom sound. So over the G7 chord we would play a Db mixo penta. A great and easy way to to get some of that outside tension and resolution once we resolve to our 1 chord!
  This is the tip of the iceberg I assure you, if you would care for me to elaborate further then hit me with a message but for now this has been a bit long winded but always a pleasure share knowledge with fellow music lovers!  Until next time...Cheers!!

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