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Home : Theory and Patterns : Pentatonic Jazz
PENTATONIC JAZZ

(a downloadable PDF version of this document is available at http://gui-tar.com/pentatonic_jazz.pdf)
(a cheat sheet is available at http://gui-tar.com/pentatonic_jazz--cheat_sheet.pdf)


You can use the pentatonic scales, with a few added and/or changed notes, to play over every type of chord found in jazz tunes.  The great benefit of learning to improvise jazz solos using the pentatonic scales is that the learning curve is reduced tremendously, compared to all the other traditional instruction methods.  Most guitarists ingrain musical lead guitar techniques, fingerings and phrases, from the earliest stages of learning.  With just a little understanding and practice, those fingerings, techniques, and phrases can be instantly and easily put to use to play jazz solos.  This text explains everything that's required to play over every type of "jazz chord", in every position of the fretboard, using only the common pentatonic scale fingerings.


Below are the 5 well known pentatonic scale fingerings.  In these diagrams, the capital "M" designates the *Major* root note, and lower case "m" designates the *minor* root note.   Put an "M" on any chosen root note, and you are playing a major pentatonic scale in that note's key.  Put an "m" on any chosen root note, and you are playing a minor pentatonic scale in that key:

  1         2         3         4         5

mooMom     omo         o      omoo o      om
||||||    M|||oM    ooM|mo    ||||M|    oM||oo
|omo||    |||o||    ||||||    ||om||    ||||||
M   oM    ooM mo    omoo|o    oM  oo    mooMom
                        M

Notice that ALL these scales are formed from a consistent ROTATING pattern of fingerings on each adjacent string, with a 1 fret *shift" apart between the 2nd and 3rd strings.  The repeating pattern of fingerings is:

WIDE  WIDE  NARROW  NARROW  NARROW

wide   = pointer finger and pinky on a string, separated by 2 empty frets
narrow = pointer finger and ring finger on a string, separated by 1 empty fret

Here's the tablature for each of the fingerings in "C major" (pinky on the 8th fret "C" on the 1st string, in the first fingering position).  This scale can also be called "A minor" (pointer finger on the 5th fret "A" on the 1st string, in the first fingering position):


8-5------------------------10-8------------------------
----8-5-------------------------10-8-------------------
---------7-5-------------------------9-7---------------
--------------7-5------------------------10-7----------
------------------7-5-------------------------10-7-----
-----------------------8-5-------------------------10-8


12-10--------------------------------15-12------------------------------
------13-10--------------------------------15-13------------------------
--------------12-9-------------------------------14-12------------------
-------------------12-10-------------------------------14-12------------
-------------------------12-10-------------------------------15-12------
-------------------------------12-10-------------------------------15-12


17-15------------------------------
------17-15------------------------
------------17-14------------------
------------------17-14------------
------------------------17-15------
------------------------------17-15


Play through every scale fingering above until you recognize the pattern of WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW fingerings on adjacent strings.


BLUES SCALE:

In every fingering, you can add the "blues" note, labeled below with a period (".").  Notice that in every case, the octave blues notes are found just above the first NARROW fingering (just to the right of the ring finger note), and in the middle of the third NARROW fingering (in between the pointer and ring finger notes):

  1         2         3         4         5

mooMom     omo         o      omoo o      om
|.||||    M|||oM    ooM|mo    ||.|M|    oM||oo
|omo||    |||o.|    .||||.    ||om||    ||||.|
M  .oM    ooM mo    omoo|o    oM  oo    mooMom
          .           . M         .      .

In blues, rock, country, and pop styles of music, you tend to stay in ONE KEY for an entire solo, over the entire rhythm backing chord progression (perhaps shifting back and forth between major and minor pentatonic positions on the same root).  IN JAZZ TUNES, YOU SWITCH SCALES FOR *EVERY CHORD*.  1 or more notes may also be added or changed in each position (in every octave), to add necessary harmonic color.


MAJOR:

For MAJOR chords (i.e., Cmaj7, Bbmaj6, G#maj9, etc.), play major pentatonic with 1 added note in all octaves.  In these diagrams, the capital "M" designates the root note, lower case "o" notes are other notes in the main pentatonic scale fingering, and period "." notes are added notes.  Notice that ALL the added notes are ONE FRET BELOW the "M" root note, always in the same position in the rotating WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW pattern:

  1         2         3         4         5
   .
oooMoo    .ooo .      .o      oooo.o     .oo
||||||    M|||oM    ooM|oo    ||||M|    oM||oo
.ooo|.    ||.o||    ||||||    |.oo||    |||.||
M   oM    ooM oo    oooo.o    oM  oo    oooMoo
                        M


MINOR:

For MINOR chords, play minor pentatonic with the SAME added note fingerings.  In these diagrams, the lower case "m" designates the root note, lower case "o" notes are other notes in the main pentatonic scale fingering, and period "." notes are added notes.  Notice that ALL the added notes are TWO FRETS ABOVE the "m" root note, always in the same position in the rotating WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW pattern:

  1         2         3         4         5
   .
moooom     omo .      .o      omoo.o     .om
||||||    o|||oo    ooo|mo    ||||o|    oo||oo
.omo|.    ||.o||    ||||||    |.om||    |||.||
o   oo    ooo mo    omoo.o    oo  oo    moooom
                        o


DOMINANT:

For DOMINANT chords (i.e., C7, Bb9, G#13, etc.), play major pentatonic with 1 DIFFERENT added note in all octaves.  In these diagrams, the capital "M" designates the root note, lower case "o" notes are other notes in the main pentatonic scale fingering, and period "." notes are added notes.  Notice that ALL the added notes are TWO FRETS BELOW the "M" root note (as opposed to ONE fret in the major chords), always in the same position in the rotating WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW pattern:

  1         2         3         4         5

oooMoo     ooo         o      oooo o      oo
.||||.    M|.|oM    ooM|oo    |.||M|    oM|.oo
|ooo||    |||o||    ||||.|    ||oo||    ||||||
M . oM    ooM oo    oooo|o    oM .oo    oooMoo
              .      .  M               .    .


ALTERED DOMINANT:

For ALTERED DOMINANT chords (i.e., C7b9, Db7#5, G#7b5, B7#9, Eb7+5-9, A7-5+9, etc. - dominants with any combination #9 and/or b9, #5, and/or b5) play minor pentatonic with THREE DIFFERENT added notes in all octaves.  In these diagrams, the lower case "m" designates the root note, lower case "o" notes are other notes in the main pentatonic scale fingering, and period "." notes are added notes.  Notice that the added notes are always in the same position in the rotating WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW pattern:

  1         2         3         4         5

moooom     omo         o      omoo o      om
.||...    o..|oo    ooo.mo    ..||o.    oo..oo
|omo||    .||o||    ||.|.|    ||om.|    |.||||
o.. oo    ooo.mo    omoo|o    oo..oo    moooom
.    .        .     ..  o.              .   ..


HALF DIMINISHED:

For HALF DIMINISHED chords (i.e., Cm7b5, Bbmin7b5, G#-7b5, etc.), play minor pentatonic with the BLUES NOTE ADDED, TWO ADDITIONAL NOTES ADDED, and the "5th" note REMOVED in all octaves (the note just to the right of the blues note).  In these diagrams, the lower case "m" designates the root note, lower case "o" notes are other notes in the main pentatonic scale fingering, "x" notes are the REMOVED notes from the original pentatonic scale (DON'T PLAY THEM), and period "." notes are added notes.  Notice that the added notes are directly to the right of the 3 NARROW pentatonic fingerings, and on the left inside of the WIDE pentatonic fingerings:

  1         2         3         4         5

moooxm     xmo         x      xmoo x      xm
..||..    o...oo    ooo.mo    ...|o.    oo..oo
|xmo||    |||x||    .|||..    ||xm||    ||||.|
o...oo    ooo.mo    xmoo|x    oo..oo    moooxm
          .   ..    ... o.        .     ..  ..

You can also play the major scale with the root 1 fret above the half diminished chord root note.


ADDING THE "BLUES" NOTE:

In EVERY one of the scales above, you can add the "blues" note found in the blues scale shown earlier.  Here are the 1st position fingerings for each of the scales above, with the blues note added.  MEMORIZE AND PRACTICE THESE FINGERINGS *FIRST*:

   .         .
oooMoo    moooom    oooMoo    moooom    moooxm
|.||||    |.||||    ..|||.    ..|...    ..||..
.ooo|.    .omo|.    |ooo||    |omo||    |xmo||
M  .oM    o  .oo    M ..oM    o...oo    o...oo
                              .    .
Major     Minor     Dominant  Altered   Half
                              Dominant  Diminished



FULLY DIMINISHED:

For fully diminished chords, instead of using a pentatonic scale, it's best just to learn the following simple arpeggio shape.  Any note in this shape can be used as the root note, and it can be moved up or down the fretboard in successions of 3 frets, in either direction, and all the notes are the same:

|||||O
||||||
||||O|
|||O|O
||||||
||O|O|


You can also play the altered dominant 1 fret below the diminished chord (i.e., for Bbdim7, play A7alt).


"CAGED" PENTATONICS:


It's important to note that you can find all the common fingerings for the C, A, G, E, and D ("CAGED") MAJOR chords WITHIN each pentatonic fingering.  This helps to immediately locate the correct pentatonic scale fingering around well known bar chord shapes.  The "X"s in the following diagrams outline each of the 5 MAJOR (triad 1 3 5) bar chord shapes, within the pentatonic scale fingerings (capital "X" is the root note).  The "M"s indicate additional major chord arpeggio notes:

  1G        2E        3D        4C        5A

ooxXxo     Moo         M      xoox x      Mo
||||||    X|||xX    oxX|oo    ||||X|    xX||ox
|xoo||    |||x||    ||||||    ||xo||    ||||||
X   xX    oxX oo    Moox|x    MX  oM    ooxXxo
                        X

You can also find all the common fingerings for the CAGED MINOR chords in each pentatonic fingering.  The "X"'s in these diagrams designate the 5 MINOR (triad 1 b3 5) bar chord shapes, within each pentatonic scale fingerings (capital "X" is the root note).  The "m"s indicate additional minor chord arpeggio notes:

  1E        2D        3C        4A        5G

XooxxX     mX          x      mXoo x      xX
||||||    m|||ox    oox|Xo    ||||x|    ox||oo
|xXo||    |||x||    ||||||    ||xX||    ||||||
m   om    oom Xo    mXoo|m    om  oo    XoomxX
                        m

You don't need to understand how the CAGED chord shapes are found within the pentatonics, but it can really help you visualize which scale you should be playing over any given bar chord in a rhythm backing pattern.  Becoming familiar with the CAGED shapes is also helpful in gaining more understanding about guitar in general, as it tends to be the most popular method used to describe all advanced theory concepts on the guitar fretboard.


CHORD SHAPES FOR RHYTHM BACKUP:

This article is about playing lead guitar, but you will rarely find yourself in a situation where you play lead guitar without also having to play backing chords.  Here are a variety of useful fingering used to play the most common types of "jazz" chords.  Capital "R" is the root note, capital "O"s are other notes in the main chord shape, small "r"s are root notes which shouldn't be played (they're just in the diagram to help position the chord), small "o"s are notes that can be added, and periods "." are less important optional added notes:

MAJOR (maj, maj7, M, triangle, maj9, maj13, etc.):

R|||O|    |R|||O    r|||||    |r||||    |||OOO    |||||O    ||OO||
||OO||    |||O||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||O|    rrr|OO
||||||    ||O|O|    ||R|||    ||ORO|    ||O|||    |||O||    ||||||
||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    |R||||    ||R|||    ||||||
||||||    ||||||    |||OOO    |||||O    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||

That last "6/9" shape is particularly useful because when positioned with the (unplayed) root note on either the 6th or 5th string, the shape can be slid up 2 frets, providing quite a few major voicings all over the fretboard, with just a single shape.


MINOR (min, min7, m, m7, -, -7, m9, etc.):

R|OOOO    |R|O|O    r|||||    |r||||    ||O|O|    ||O|||    |O||||
||||||    ||||O|    ||||||    ||||O|    ||||||    ||||||    |||O||
|0||.o    ||O||.    ||R|||    |||R||    |R|O||    |R|OOO    r|O|O|
||||..    |||||.    ||||OO    |||||O    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||
||.|||    |||.||    |||O||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||


DOMINANT (7, 9, 13, etc.):

R|O|OO    |R|O|O    r|||||
    |r||||    ||||O|    ||||||    ||||||
|||O||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||O|||    ||O|||    |O|O||
|O||o.    ||O|O.    ||R|||    ||ORO|    |R|O||    |R|OOO    r|O|O|
||||.|    |||||.    ||||O|    |||||O    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||
||||||    ||||||    |||O|O    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||


ALTERED DOMINANT (7#5, 7b9, 7+5, 7-9, aug (same as #5), etc.):

r|O|O|    ||O|O|    ||||||    R|O||r    ||||||    |||OO|    Or|O|O
|
||O|O    |r|O|O    ||r|||    |||OO|    ||O|||    ||O|||    |O||||
||||||    ||||||    ||O|O|    ||||||    |R|O||    |R||||    ||O|O|
|
|||||    ||||||    |||O|O    ||||||    ||||O|    ||||||    ||||||

r|||||
|||O||
||R|||
||||OO


HALF DIMINISHED (m7b5, min7b5, m7-5, -7b5, -7-5, circle with a line through it, etc.):

||||O|    |||||O    ||||||    ||||||
R|OO||    |R|O||    |R|O||    ||R|||
||||||    ||||O|    ||O|O|    |||OOO
||||||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||


FULLY DIMINISHED (dim7, circle 7, etc.):

||O|O|    O||O|O    ||||||
|||O|O    |O||||    ||O|O|
||||||    ||O|O|    O||O||
||||||    ||||||    ||||||

ANY of the notes in the diminished shapes can be used as the root.
The diminished shapes can also be slid up or down 3 frets, and they contain the exact same notes.


HOW TO PRACTICE:

It's suggested that you initially study and practice all the chord types first using ONLY THE *1ST POSITION* PENTATONIC SCALE VARIATION FOR EACH CHORD.  You'll be amazed at how musical the resulting solos can be.  Use and leverage all the licks, phrases, muscle memory, and musical familiarity you've mastered creating rock, blues, country, and pop melodies, licks, and lines in that position, to create lines over common jazz chords.  Practice THE 1ST POSITION fingering of a single type of chord, over a single chord backing track for just that one type of chord on one root note, in all 12 keys, until each of the 5 positions is mastered.  Then play the chords in a song context, with each chord moving 2-4 times slower than normal (lasting 2-4 times as long as normal), so that you can find the correct root notes and fingerings for each chord.  Gradually speed up the chords in the song until you can play the entire chord progression up to speed.  Once you've done that, do the exact same thing with several more songs, using ONLY THE 1ST POSITION pentatonic fingerings.  You'll be amazed at the musical and technical results that can be achieved with only the 1st position fingering on every chord.  You'll cover the entire fretboard in most songs, using only the first position fingering, because you need to move to different frets to find each root note.  Focus on being musical and making melodies when practicing.  Don't just play the scale up and down - try to connect melody lines on the same string when shifting to different root notes.  Once you can play a few songs, repeat the entire process, adding a 2nd fingering position for each chord.  Then repeat the process all over again using the rest of the 5 pentatonic fingerings.  You'll begin to quickly see the repetition in the fingerings, if you focus on where notes are added within the rotating WIDE WIDE NARROW NARROW NARROW pattern.

Here are some songs and chord progressions that you can practice to learn the scales:


Misty
All Of Me


Fly Me To The Moon


I Got Rhythm



ii V7 I  Exercises, in 12 Keys



Minor ii7b5 V7alt i  Exercises, in 12 Keys


Green Dolphin Street


Girl From Ipanema



Ain't Misbehavin'
Autumn Leaves
Blue Bossa
Cherokee



Jazz Blues

Minor Blues

Giant Steps
The Christmas Song

Crazy


Donna Lee



Georgia On My Mind






ii-V7-I  SUBSTITUTIONS ("two-fives"):


You can use any of the ii-V7-I scales (minor ii, dominant V7, major I) to substitute for any of the other ii-V7-I scales.  For example, over a C major chord, you can play D minor (dorian), or G dominant (mixolydian).  Over D minor, you can play C major or G7.  And over G7, you can play Dm or Cmaj.  Here are the ii-V7-I chords in each key.  Memorize them, practice each chord individually using each substitution chord, then find sections of songs that use these chord progressions, and use any of the substitution scales to play over any or all of that section of the song:

dm   G7   C
am   D7   G
em   A7   D
bm   E7   A
f#m  B7   E
c#m  F#7  B      (dbm  Gb7  Cb)
g#m  C#7  F#     (abm  Db7  Gb)
ebm  Ab7  Db     (d#m  G#7  C#)
Bbm  Eb7  Ab     (a#m  D#7  G#)
fm   Bb7  Eb
cm   F7   Bb
gm   C7   F

The ii-V-I substitutions in minor consist of the same root notes with half diminished (m7b5, or minor 7th with a flat 5), altered dominant (7b9, 7#9, 7b5, 7#5, 7+5-9, 7-5+9, etc.), and minor 6 (m6) chords.  You can substitute any of these chord/scales for any other in the same key (i.e., dm7b5, G7alt, and Cm6 are interchangeable):

dm7b5   G7alt   Cm6
am7b5   D7alt   Gm6
em7b5   A7alt   Dm6
bm7b5   E7alt   Am6
f#m7b5  B7alt   Em6
c#m7b5  F#7alt  Bm6      (dbm7b5  Gb7alt  Cbm6)
g#m7b5  C#7alt  F#m6     (abm7b5  Db7alt  Gbm6)
ebm7b5  Ab7alt  Dbm6     (d#m7b5  G#7alt  C#m6)
Bbm7b5  Eb7alt  Abm6     (a#m7b5  D#7alt  G#m6)
fm7b5   Bb7alt  Ebm6
cm7b5   F7alt   Bbm6
gm7b5   C7alt   Fm6


HARMONIC REDUCTION:

An important benefit of knowing ii-V7-I progressions is that many sections of jazz tunes often consist largely, or entirely, of major ii-V7-I and minor ii7b5-V7alt-i6 progressions in different keys (collectively just called "ii-V"s).  Instead of playing over every single chord, changing scales for each one, you can group each of the ii-V7s together and play a single scale over that entire section (i.e., any single minor ii, dominant V7, or major I scale in a ii-V7-I).  This eases the thought process quiet a bit during fast chord progressions, and also puts focus on the harmonic substitution sounds, which are a fundamentally idiomatic characteristic of "jazz flavor".

This harmonic reduction idea can be extended further by playing a single major scale for any chord that fits within the "diatonic" group of chords  Imaj7  ii7  iii  IVmaj7(#11)  V7(9) vi  vii-7b5  (III7alt).  You'll often find large sections of songs, and in fact some entire tunes that can be reduced to a single diatonic scale.  "Turnarounds", particularly the chords iii vi ii V I, are really common.  Here are all the diatonic chords of every major scale key.  Find sections of tunes made up of any combination of these chords, and you can play a single major scale for that entire section (because all these chords are made up entirely of the notes from that one major scale):

 Imaj7    ii7     iii     IVmaj7(#11)   V7(9)      vi     vii7b5    III7alt

 Cmaj7    dm7     em      Fmaj7(#11)    G7(G9)     am     bm7b5     E7alt
 Gmaj7    am7     bm      Cmaj7(#11)    D7(D9)     em     f#m7b5    B7alt
 Dmaj7    em7     f#m     Gmaj7(#11)    A7(A9)     bm     c#m7b5    F#7alt
 Amaj7    bm7     c#m     Dmaj7(#11)    E7(E9)     f#m    g#m7b5    C#7alt
 Emaj7    f#m7    g#m     Amaj7(#11)    B7(B9)     c#m    d#m7b5    G#7alt
 Bmaj7    c#m7    d#m     Emaj7(#11)    F#7(F#9)   g#m    a#m7b5    D#7alt
(Cbmaj7   dbm7    ebm     Fbmaj7(#11)   Gb7(Gb9)   abm    bbm7b5    Eb7alt)

 F#maj7   g#m7    a#m     Bmaj7(#11)    C#7(C#9)   d#m    e#m7b5    A#7alt
(Gb
maj7   abm7    bbm     Cbmaj7(#11)   Db7(Db9)   ebm    fm7b5     Bb7alt)
 Dbmaj7   ebm7    fm      Gbmaj7(#11)   Ab7(Ab9)   bbm    cm7b5     F7alt
(C#
maj7   d#m7    e#m     F#maj7(#11)   G#7(G#9)   a#m    b#m7b9    E#7alt)
 Abmaj7   bbm7    cm      Dbmaj7(#11)   Eb7(Eb9)   fm     gm7b5     C7alt
(G#maj7   a#m7    b#m     C#maj7(#11)   D#7(D#9)   e#m    f*m7b9    B#7alt)

 Ebmaj7   fm7     gm      Abmaj7(#11)   Bb7(Bb9)   cm     dm7b5     G7alt
 Bbmaj7   cm7     dm      Ebmaj7(#11)   F7(F9)     gm     am7b5     D7alt
 Fmaj7    gm7     am      Bbmaj7(#11)   C7(C9)     dm     em7b5     A7alt

Notice that each key contains all the chords required for a full major "iii vi ii V7 I" turnaround, and also for a full minor "ii7b5 V7alt i" (minor ii-V7-i) progressionThe chords vii7b5-III7alt-vi in major, are the same as
ii7b5-V7alt-i in the relative minor key (i.e., bm7b5-E7alt-am  =  ii7b5-III7alt-vi in the key of Cmajor, or ii7b5 V7alt i in the key of Aminor, which is the relative minor of Cmajor).  You are most likely to see portions of ii-V, ii7b5-V7alt, and iii-vi-ii-V7-I progressions making up portions of jazz songs.  Memorizing the table above is perhaps the most important theoretical knowledge required to understand useful jazz harmony.  By being able to reduce entire sections of songs down to a single major scale, you can play over fast moving progressions much more easily.

To be clear, harmonic reduction provides a separate, totally different (and simpler) way of finding notes that fit over chord progressions.  With the addition of harmonic reduction, it's important to understand that there are 2 distinct approaches to finding notes that fit over any given progression:
  1. You can play over each individual chord, using a different scale for each chord, as described so far in this text.  This works for any chord in any progression, but requires a lot of fast thought and fingerboard positioning.

  2. You can play a single scale over a group of chords that reduces to a single key (diatonic chords that are made up of only notes from that single scale, as defined in the list above).  This is only possible for portions of progressions that stay in one key, and requires crystal clear recognition of the chord groupings above, but does ease the amount of switching between scales, and can provide smoother, faster, and more musically flowing note choice options, especially in songs with fast moving progressions.
The practical essence of harmonic reduction is that you can stay within a single scale for longer.  For example, when playing dm7 G7 Cmaj7 (ii-V in C), you can stay on dm7 for a bit longer, to play a longer phrase in the same key, without having to jump between each scale required for dm7, G7, and Cmaj7.


CHORD SUBSTITUTIONS:

You will often see chords "substituted" for other chords in jazz songs.  Be aware that backup chords may often be changed, on the spot, by rhythm players.  The basic chord substitution rules are as follows:

1) Substitute vi and/or iii for I

2) Substitute ii for IV

3) Precede any unaltered dominant chord with a minor chord on the root note a fifth above (i.e., precede G7 with dm).  This is called the "ii V" substitution.

4) Precede any chord with the dominant chord a fifth above (i.e., precede G7 with D7).  This is called "back-cycling".

5) When back cycling to a minor chord, the dominant chord should be altered with a #5, b5, #9, or b9 (i.e., precede dm with A7b9)

6) When using a ii V substitution for an altered dominant chord, use a m7b5 chord for the ii substitution (i.e., precede A7b9 with Em7b5).

7) Remove the root note from any 7b9 chord, and what's left is a diminished 7th chord, which you can move up or down 3 consecutive frets (i.e., A7b9 is the same as Bbdim7, C#dim7, Edim7, and Gdim7).

8) Use a tritone (b5) root note substitution for any dominant chord (i.e., replace G7 with Db7).  These chords contain the same 3rd and b7th intervals.

9) Extensions, especially 7ths, 9ths, and 13ths can be added to just about any basic triad or 7th chord (i.e., Cmaj9 can replace Cmaj7).

10) Alterations can most often be added to dominant chords:  #5, b5, b9, #9, sus, etc. (i.e., G7#5 can be played in many cases, instead of G7)


BLUES REDUCTIONS AND VARIATIONS:

"Blues" chord progressions are based on a 12 bar progression of I7 IV7 and V7 chords, the most basic of which is:

I7 IV7 I7 I7 IV7 IV7 I7 I7 V7 IV7 I7 V7

Rock, blues, country and pop guitarists often play a single pentatonic or blues scale for an entire 12 bar blues progression, very often switching between major and minor pentatonic scales in the same key (with added blues notes), typically by ear.  The major pentatonic scale provides a "country" sound, and the minor pentatonic provides a more "bluesy" or "rock" sound.

The jazz approach to playing blues typically involves playing a separate scale for each, just as in all other jazz styles tunes.  The blues/rock/country/pop approach of reducing the blues progression to a single pentatonic key, however, can also be very useful in tunes that contain the I7, IV7, and V7 chords - especially when the chords move quickly.  The first section of "Rhythm Changes" (based on the song "I Got Rhythm"), for example, can be treated this way.  Play major pentatonic (with blues notes added) for the first 8 bars, minor pentatonic over the next 4 bars, and major pentatonic over the last 4 bars of the A section.
  Here are a few of the common chord progression variations used to play 12 bar blues in jazz:
  1. Diminished sub on D7, Backcycle and ii-V subs on last four measures:

    A7 | D7 | A7 | A7 | D7 | D#dim7 | C#m | F#7 | Bm | E7 | C#m  F#7 | Bm  E7 |

  2. Tritone subs for F#7 and E7, Use original A7 in measure 7, half-dimished/altered dominant on Bm E7:

    A7 | D7 | A7 | A7 | D7 | D#dim7 | A7 | F#7 |  Bm | Bb7 | C#m  C7 | Bm7b5 E7b9 |

  3. var #1 (after D#dim):

    Amaj7  Bm | C#m7 Cm9 | Bm9 Bm13 | E7 (4 variations) | C#m7b5  F#7(#9)| Bm7 E7(b9) Bb7 | A7 G#7 G7 F#7 | Bm7 E7 |

Since so many jazz songs are based on 12 bar blues and I Got Rhythm song forms, the I7 IV7 V7 blues reduction is important to know.


WHY STUDY THIS?

Learning to position a proper scale QUICKLY over changing root notes in each chord of a tune is the FUNDAMENTAL challenge required to play any "jazz" song.  This approach, once learned, can be applied to songs in any other style, to provide more note choice "pathways", a better variety of potential finger movements on the fretboard, and far greater harmonic interest, than can be achieved with a single scale in a single key.  The substitution rules can also be used to create even more interesting sounds.

This idea sounds great in theory, but most players just don't ever seem to get very far with studying jazz.  There are many approaches to learning all the notes of the different types of chords and scales.  You can learn to read all the notes on the guitar, and then learn the note spellings of every single chord and scale label.  This requires many years of study, yet doesn't provide much insight into the harmonic structure of how scales and chords are created, or why certain relationships, substitutions, etc. sound nice together.  Another, perhaps better option is to study the interval structures that form every type of scale, chord, and harmonic relationship, and then learn the movable fingering patterns that form every possible interval shape on the guitar.  This typically requires numerous months of dedicated daily study (at least a few hours every day) to ingrain the minimum required fingerings needed to play even the most basic jazz tunes, and can take YEARS to really ingrain all the commonly used chord and scale combinations (not to mention a varied vocabulary of reusable phrases and interesting musical materials made up of the common interval structures).  There are many approaches to help organize and ease the learning curve required to play common interval patterns:  "CAGED" chord shape interval fingerings, "Rotating" scale mode fingerings, "Octave Interval" shape fingerings, "Root Note Centered Cluster" fingerings, etc.  Those approaches all help provide organized methods of mapping out the entire fretboard, in ways that provide "good sounding" authentic note choice for jazz guitar solos.


The problem is that most players simply do not have the time, motivation, or interest to practice for months or years simply to play simple solos over simple jazz chord changes.

Not only does the pentatonic approach provide an EASIER way to initially approach jazz soloing, it can be dramatically effective at producing authentic MUSICAL sounds, compared to other methods.  That's because not only are most guitarists intimately familiar with the pentatonic scale fingering(s), they are also intimately familiar with its *MUSICAL* application.  Guitarists typically learn the basics of lead guitar technique by studying and performing well known rock, blues, country and other popular style guitar solos.  The first position, at least, is typically well known by even beginner guitarists.  The way that bends, double stops, hammer-on and pull-off licks, sequence patterns, string crossings, and other techniques are used to create truly interesting music, even in a single key, is clearly understood by most players.  Leveraging this knowledge and ability is critically important in building jazz chops, and just as important at avoiding the daunting feeling of "starting all over again" with totally unknown scales and chords.  If you know even one position of the pentatonic scale, you can use it to play over every common chord in any jazz progression.  All you have to do is add a couple notes, and position it over the correct root note of every chord in a song.

The basic idea, theoretically, is that major pentatonic scales (pinky on the first string root note) can be played for major and dominant chords, with a few added notes depending on chord type.  Minor pentatonic scales can be played for minor, altered dominant, and half diminished chords, with a few added/changed notes depending on chord type.   Major ii-V7, minor ii7b5-V7alt, I/iii-vi-ii-V7 turnarounds and other harmonic reduction progressions can be grouped together as a single scale.  There's really very little new to learn - you just need to be able to move the known shape(s) to each root note, quickly.

By learning the pentatonic approach to jazz soloing, not only can you begin playing jazz tunes immediately, you also use it to become more familiar with the "CAGED" approach to learning, the "Rotating" approach, the "Octave" interval approach, and other common ways of learning the fretboard.  The pentatonics form a solid framework for understanding all those approaches to finding "good sounding" notes, that are 100% appropriate for each style of music.  And if you have any experience playing any sort of mainstream lead guitar, you can get up to speed very quickly, by using shapes that you already know and can play well.  If you apply yourself for a few hours, learning to move quickly between root notes and adding just a few notes to the basic fingering(s), you'll be amazed at the authentic and interesting jazz lead sounds you can create immediately.  Have fun!

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.