In a previous post, I explained how you can make your guitar solos more interesting by mixing your minor pentatonic scales from different keys. This method for improving your lead guitar playing is particularly effective if you play jazz or fusion styles. If you haven’t already checked out that lesson, then make sure you check it out, as today’s online guitar lesson will be similar in its concept. In today’s lesson, we will learn how to mix major pentatonic scales from different keys in order to make your lead playing more harmonically interesting.
Mixing Pentatonic Scales – Recap
As explained above, we have previously looked at the concept of mixing pentatonic scales in a minor key. To recap, this was the idea that if you are improvising in, let’s say, the key of A minor, you don’t just have the A minor pentatonic scale available to you to craft your solo. In fact, you can also use D minor and E minor pentatonic and still remain diatonic to the key of A minor. Again, for further clarification on why this is effective, please refer to my previous article on the subject. Today, we will be looking at a similar concept, this time using major keys instead of minor.
We’ve already established that we can use three different minor pentatonic scales to improvise with in any minor key. The same is true in major keys. The only difference is that we now have three different major pentatonic scales available to us, instead of minor ones.
Let’s take the key of C major for example. You may be aware that, if you are improvising in the key of C major, you can play the C major scale over the chord progression and it will fit. Let’s have a look at the notes which make up the C major scale:
We can also use the C major pentatonic scale to improvise with in the key of C major. This is because the C major pentatonic scale is derived from the C major scale. Think of the C major scale as the parent scale of C major pentatonic. Let’s have a look at the notes that make up the C major pentatonic scale. You may notice that it is the same as the C major scale, with 2 notes missing (the 4th and the 7th.)
From the parent scale of C major, it is also possible to form two other major pentatonic scales from the same selection of notes. The first of which is F major pentatonic. The notes of the F major pentatonic scale are as follows:
As you can see, although we are thinking of F major pentatonic here, we are actually playing the 4th, 5th, 6th, root and 2nd notes of the C major scale if we are playing over a chord progression in the key of C major. The second major pentatonic scale that can be formed from the parent scale of C major, is the G major pentatonic scale. Let’s have a look at the notes of the G major pentatonic scale:
Similarly to before, although we are thinking G major pentatonic here, we are actually playing the 5th, 6th, 7th, 2nd and 3rd degrees of the C major scale if we are improvising over a chord progression in the key of C major.
This means that, in any major key, we can use the pentatonic scales built off of the root, 4th and 5th notes of the major scale, and still remain diatonic to that key.
In order to get this concept under your fingers to begin with, it might be easier to simply play position 1 of each major pentatonic scale over a backing track, and move between each shape. However, after a while, you may prefer to keep the three different pentatonic scales in one position on the neck, in order to avoid jumping around the fretboard too much. Keeping these shapes in one position will also help “disguise” this concept in your playing, and make it sound less obvious.
In order to demonstrate this concept, let’s keep everything in the key of C major, as that’s the key we have been working with in this lesson. First of all, let’s examine position 1 of the C major scale, with the notes of C major pentatonic highlighted:
You can also find the shape of F major pentatonic position 4 contained within C major scale position 1. Below is a diagram of C major scale position 1 with the notes of F major pentatonic highlighted:
The shape of G major pentatonic position 3 can also be found within position 1 of the C major scale. Here is a diagram of C major position 1 with the notes of G major pentatonic highlighted:
Mixing Major Pentatonics – Example Licks
I have put together 3 different example licks that demonstrate this concept. As we have been using the key of C for this lesson today, I have written each lick in said key. Furthermore, each lick has been written with fairly strict 8th note timing, in order for you to get the shifts between each pentatonic shape easier. You can always put your own rhythm on these licks and phrases once you have got them under your fingers. Let’s have a look at the first example:
This is similar to an idea that I created in my mixing minor pentatonic examples. It descends through each different pentatonic pattern on the high E, B and G strings before resolving to a nice slide to the 3rd of C major (E.)
Here is the second example:
This idea only uses F major and G major pentatonic over a C chord, but it does demonstrate a nice F major arpeggio before shifting between each scale, ending on a semitone bend on the G string to the 11th of C (F.)
Here is the final example:
This final lick, although longer than the other two, demonstrates the amount of harmonic interest you can add to C major pentatonic just by weaving in a few passages from F and G major pentatonic. You may notcie that it always switches back to C major pentatonic after each new sequence, this was deliberate.
I hope you have enjoyed this final part to my Mixing Pentatonic series. Make sure you figure out these ideas in all 12 keys, as well as all 5 positions of your major scale for maximum effect. Until next time, have fun and keep improving your guitar skills.