Pentatonic scales are a great tool for adding just the right notes to a chord. They are somewhere between being a scale and an arpeggio. Used in interesting ways, pentatonic scales can be the perfect choice to give you all the right colour notes for that perfect sound.
As you probably already know, a pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes from any given scale. Most improvisers know the major pentatonic as being notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale. Many of you already use this scale over a I major chord and just as often over a VI minor type chord. Sounds great but very inside and mostly uninteresting as far as giving your solos any kind of colour.
A more interesting use of a major pentatonic scale would be to do something like play a D major pentatonic over a Cmaj7(#11) chord. The notes you will end up with are the 9th, 3rd, #11, 6th and major 7th. That’s more like it! We have some beautiful colour notes which sound rich and spicy!
Of course there are many more examples of how to use a pentatonic scale over different kinds of chords to add great sounding colour tones to your solos. For now I’ll let you search around the web on your own for some of these other wonderful ways to use pentatonic scales.
There is another much overlooked pentatonic scale which has a rich beautiful sound. This scale is mostly referred to as the “Kumoi” scale. I like to call it the minor pentatonic but the problem is that many musicians will often play a major pentatonic scale starting on the 6th degree and call that a minor pentatonic. This is not the Kumoi scale.
The Kumoi scale follows the same rule as the major pentatonic scale except you will not use the major scale. For Kumoi, we need the melodic minor scale. Using the melodic minor scale, take the same notes, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Although in the case of the melodic minor scale, the 3rd will be a minor 3rd. All other notes will be the same. So then the easy way to think of Kumoi is to see it as a major pentatonic scale with a flatted 3rd.
Lets look at both the major scale and its pentatonic as well as the melodic minor scale and its pentatonic the Kumoi scale.
If we take extract notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 we end up with a major pentatonic.
Now let’s look at the Melodic Minor Scale.
Now let’s do the same thing and extract 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Keep in mind that our 3rd in now a flatted 3rd.
At this point it’s a good idea to try playing the Kumoi Scale in different positions on the guitar. Try to get a feel for fingerings and listen to hear what Kumoi sounds like.
Next we need to look at some of the places you can use the Kumoi scale. The most obvious place to look is the melodic minor scale and the chords generated by the melodic minor scale. Cm6 is the most obvious of chords where Kumoi can be used. It’s going to give you scale tones 1 (root), 2 (9th), b3 (minor 3rd), 5 (5th) and 6 (major 6th). Let’s have a listen.
In this example, the Kumoi scale is used over the Cm6 chord in a minor II – V – I progression.
In this next example we have a C Kumoi scale being used over the F9 chord. F dominant is the IV chord of the C melodic minor scale.
In this next example we will use the Kumoi scale in a modal context. Here we will use a C Kumoi scale over an Ebmaj7(#11) chord. Ebmaj7(#11) is the bIII chord of the C melodic minor scale. The Kumoi scale will give us the following notes as they relate to the Ebmaj7(#11) chord. Notes are as follows: 1 (root), 3 (3rd), #4 (#11), 6 (13) and 7 (major 7th). Nice, we are getting the important chord tones and 2 very nice colour tones; the #11 and the 13th.
For the Cmaj7(#11) we have the exact same scale only we use A Kumoi.
These three example are only a small portion of the many possible ways to use Kumoi. There are of course many more creative and inspiring ways to use this scale. A good place to find more uses for this pentatonic scale would be to explore some of the other chords generated by the melodic minor scale.
Happy practicing and stay tuned for more free jazz guitar lessons!