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Altered Pentatonic Scales


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Altered Pentatonic Scales & Where To Use Them


By: Lucas Pickford



adj. Music

Of or using only five tones, especially the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth tones of a diatonic scale.

This is Webster’s Dictionary definition of a pentatonic scale and a very good one at that. Pentatonic scales are five note scales that can be used in so many different ways. They can be used as improvisational materials over any chord type and in any musical situation. Their versatility is what makes them so great and they appeal to rockers and jazzers alike. There are innumerable patterns and variations that can be created from any of the pentatonic scales and there is really no end to the possibilities of how to use them. In this column I want to present the basic major and minor pentatonic scales and then I want to show you some more advanced things you can do just by altering or changing one or more notes in those scales. Just by changing one note in these scales, you increase the different chords that they can fit over. The “R” in these examples refers to the Root and the numbers refer to scale degrees.


Basic Pentatonic Scales


·        The formula for making ANY major pentatonic scale is this: R- 2- 3-5-6 and 8.

So in the key of C it would be: C-D-E-G-A-C (this being the octave of course).

I won’t include the octave in all of these examples, as that should be understood.


·        The formula for making ANY minor pentatonic scale is this: R- b3- 4- 5- b7

So in the key of C it would be: C-Eb-F- G-Bb.  That’s easy enough right? Right.


In my previous columns I showed you some of the most common places where these basic major and minor pentatonics can be used. I won’t cover that material again here but will instead refer you to my web site where those columns are posted so you can brush up. Now here comes the interesting part. Let’s start by altering just one note of the plain old major pentatonic scale and see how it opens up the possible chords you can play it over.


Altered Pentatonic Scales


There are seven ways to alter a basic major pentatonic scale. By altering one or more notes we aren’t changing the fact that these are five note scales. They remain five note scales albeit altered in some way.  I then give some of the possible chords that this new scale will work over. This part is the most open. The chords I list are the ones I’ve tested out myself and know sound good, at least to me they do. Of course there are always more possibilities and these are by no means the only possible chords to try these on. Here goes.


·        Cmaj pentatonic with b2 = C-Db-E-G-A - This scale will fit over these chords: C7 (b9), Eb7 (b9), F#7 (b9), A7 (#9)

 ·        Cmaj pentatonic with b3 = C-D-Eb-G-AThis scale fits over these chords: Cmin6/9, Amin7(b5), Ebmaj7, F7,  B7(alt)

 ·        Cmaj pentatonic with b2 & b5  = C-Db-E-Gb-AThis scale fits these chords: C7 (b9), Eb7 (b9), Gb7 (b9), A7 (#9)

·        Cmaj pentatonic with b5 = C-D-E-Gb-A - This scale fits these chords: Cmaj7(#11), C7(#11), F#min7(b5), Amin7, D7 

·        Cmaj pentatonic with b6 = C-D-E-G-Ab. -This scale fits these chords: C7(#5), Dmin7(b5), E7(#9), Fmin(maj7) 

·        Cmaj pentatonic with b3 &b6 = C-D-Eb-G-AbThis scale fits these chords: Cmin7, Dmin7(b5), Ebmaj7, Fmin7, Ab/G, Abmaj7(#11),  B7(alt) 

·        Cmaj pentatonic with b2 &b6 = C-Db-E-G-AbThis scale fits these chords: C7(alt), Dbmin7(b5), E7(alt)


I hope this adds to your vocabulary of different scales and shows you some ways you haven’t thought of to use pentatonic scales. I really encourage you to find your own way of thinking about harmony, scales, and music theory in general. Build your own concepts and ideas about bass playing and improvisation. These personalized concepts will lead you that elusive Holy Grail among all musicians, your own style.

I think tenor saxophone legend Dexter Gordon said it best when he said “A style isn’t something you pick off of a tree, it grows inside you.” Right on Dex.  Enjoy.



Lucas Pickford can be reached via his web site







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