Modded Pentatonics

January 30, 2014


IF YOU’RE BORED WITH YOUR pentatonic-based playing, try removing, altering, or adding any note to any pentatonic scale. Through this relatively quick and painless process, new shapes fall under your fingers, new sounds seep into your ears, and new ideas eventually emerge in your playing. Here are a few simple examples.

Fig. 1 is the old familiar A minor pentatonic scale. Fig. 2 removes the first note (A), generating a Cadd2 arpeggio (C-D-E-G). The classical-sounding two-part harmony line in Ex. 1, which consists of alternating C major and G5 diads, is created by pairing notes—first and third, second and fourth, third and fifth, etc.—and playing them harmonically (i.e. simultaneously). How Mussorgsky is that?

Fig. 3 alters the A minor pentatonic’s fourth note, E, by raising it a whole-step to F#, resulting in a somewhat East-Indian flavored D7add4 arpeggio (D-F#-G-A-C) reminiscent of ’70s-era Jeff Beck or Mahavishnu melodies as in Ex. 2.

Adding B to the A minor pentatonic scale gives us the cool-sounding, extremely useful six-note group (A, B, C, D, E, G) in Fig. 4. Call it an A Dorian mode minus the 6th degree, or an Am7add2add4 arpeggio, or just ignore theory and simply assimilate it. Since the first, third, and fifth notes spell an Am triad (A-C-E) and the second, fourth, and sixth notes spell a first-inversion G triad (B-D-G), this series of notes works over an Am (Ex. 3) or G chord (Ex. 3a).

Once you dig into this modded pentatonic concept you’ll see that it’s one of the easiest and coolest ways to generate new sounds with fairly familiar shapes and patterns. What a bargain!

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