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A pentatonic lick that goes outside the key

Posted on May 16, 2009 by Sweets

Here is a cool sounding pentatonic pattern I got from a really good trombone player I used to work with. This pentatonic lick starts off with a minor pentatonic scale, then you go down a Major third, outside the key and do another minor pentatonic scale. You can play whatever pattern or notes that you want to, the example is only to give you an idea of what you can do. This lick fits really well over modal tunes like So What.

Pentatonic - Jazz lick 27

Here is a sound sample played on trumpet:

How to learn this pentatonic lick in 12 keys:

You aren’t really learning a set pattern with this lick. You want to think in minor pentatonic, then go down a Major third and play in that minor pentatonic. In the above example you start off in E minor pentatonic, then you go down a Major 3rd to C minor pentatonic, finally, you go back to E minor pentatonic.

The best way I found to learn this lick is to just mess around with it in all the keys. Some keys will be stronger than others, but that’s OK. Once you feel comfortable enough, start using the Jazz lick in your solos either live or with Aebersolds and Band in a Box.





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6 to “A pentatonic lick that goes outside the key”

  1. Rabbit says:

    Awesome… thanks!

  2. Jonah says:

    There are a number of explanations for how this works.

    When you switch from E minor pentatonic to C minor pentatonic over an E minor chord, it could be argued that you are actually playing tritone substitution on a B7sus. The tritone of B is F, thus you could look at the C minor pentatonic as the 5, 7, 1, 2 and suspended 4th over an F7sus.

    Barry Harris also has a rule of thumb which is that you can substitute any tension chord for chords diminished thirds away.

    So, try playing the simple chord progression D-7 G7 Cmaj with this rule applied to the D-7 and G7. You can get some great reharmonizations this way!

    Some examples:

    D-7 | Bb7 | Cmaj
    F-7 | Bb7 | Cmaj
    F-7 | Db7 | Cmaj
    Ab-7 | Db7 | Cmaj
    Ab-7 | E7 | Cmaj
    B-7 | E7 | Cmaj
    B-7 | G7 | Cmaj

    and so on….

    Or you can try going the other direction:

    D-7 | E7 | Cmaj
    B-7 | E7 | Cmaj
    B-7 | Db7 | Cmaj

    etc …

    Remember, all of these chord progressions (and their related scales) could be used a substitute for D-7 G7 Cmaj. It can be daunting to think of playing all these variations on all 12 keys, but when you remember the rule that you can substitute any tension chord for another of any quality minor 3rds away, it makes it easier.

    The examples above are retaining the same quality of the chords but you can make it even more interesting by changing qualities, e.g. over the long D minor in So What you can try some interesting chord qualities by reharmonizing 2-5-1s in D minor:

    D-7 | E-7b5 A7b9 | D-7 | E7 | F#7 | D-7 | Db-7b5 | Eb7 | D- ….

    Sweets Reply:

    Thanks for your tips on pentatonics, very useful.

  3. Jonah says:

    Also, Mark Levine’s excellent Jazz Theory books have a great section on pentatonics.

    His choice of pentatonics is as follows:

    For fast, complex songs like Giant Steps, simplify ii-V7-I into a single pentatonic scale that works over all 3 chords with no avoid notes. This is the major pentatonic of the V.

    So, in Giant Steps with the following chords, you would play these pentatonics:

    Bmaj: F# pent.
    D7 Gmaj: D pent.
    Bb7 Ebmaj: Bb pent.
    Ebmaj: Bb pent.
    A-7 D7 Gmaj: D pent.
    Bb7 Ebmaj: Bb pent.
    F#7 Bmaj: F# pent.
    A-7 D7 Gmaj: D pent.
    F-7 Bb7 Ebmaj: Bb pent.
    C#-7 F#7 Bmaj: F# pent.

    These are all major pentatonic scales, i.e. F# pentatonic is F# G# A# C# D#.

    The cool thing about this is when you have a really fast song like Giant Steps, you can simplify to only 3 scales! Yes, that’s right, you can rip on the whole song with only F#, D and Bb pentatonic scales.

    Mark Levine’s rule for more complex songs is this:

    Over D minor 7, play either C major or G major pentatonic (same as A minor or E minor pentatonic).

    Over G7, play G pentatonic or a substitution of it (tritone sub being most common: Db major pentatonic).

    Using Barry Harris rules we can say the pentatonics to play over G7 are G, Bb, Db or E.

    I guess it doesn’t matter if we play major or minor pentatonics then, because whichever we play, it will be a valid harmony over G7!

    For C major 7, Mark Levine recommends the pentatonic from the fifth, G pentatonic. This yields a very pretty sound as it includes the 5, 6, 7, 9 and 3.

    To recap:

    D-7 C or G pentatonic
    G7 G, Bb, Db or E pentatonic
    Cmaj G pentatonic

    He goes on to say that you play the pentatonic from the 4th over Melodic Minor harmony.

    Here are some examples in the key of D melodic minor:

    G7#11 G pentatonic
    Here it is somewhat tame but balances the dissonance of the G7#11 chord.

    D minor 6/9 G pentatonic
    Played over a spicy D minor 6/9, G pentatonic makes a nice open consonant sound that contrasts with the tritone and half-step present in the chord. Since the scale contains neither tritone nor half-steps, it really stands out in stark relief against the tonality– a common trait of all pentatonics over Melodic Minor harmony.

    E7sus4b9 G pentatonic
    Boring sound here, I much prefer F major pentatonic (F G A C D). F pentatonic is an “out” sound and very very cool. If you get into the E7sus4b9 chords (typically played rootless as F-A-B-E with an E in the bass), then F pentatonic is a nice change of pace, especially because it doesn’t even include E as a note! But as for Mark Levine’s suggestion to use G pentatonic over E7sus4b9, I say it’s boring, don’t do it.

    B-7b5 and others also sound good — basically anything in D melodic minor. Give it a try!

  4. Fascinating…and I agree pretty much with everything. Keep up the good work…I will definitely be back shortly

  5. Robson (Robcult) says:

    Marvelous! I’m a trumpet student and I was looking for sites that publish resources about the instruments, thanks God, I guess I found.
    (I’m sorry by my english, isn’t fluent).



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