Pentatonic Improv

1940-s-jefferson-nickel-1Imagine a collection of notes that would sound good regardless of when or how you played it. Such a thing exists.  It is called the pentatonic scale and it is one of the great secrets of improvisation. Creative musicians around the world playing many different styles rely on these 5 notes (a “nickels worth”) as a basis for improvisation. For tunes that stay in one key, the pentatonic scale will sound good regardless of how you order the notes or what chords are under your improvisations (5 notes worth their weight in gold). The reason this works is because there are no half steps to create dissonance. 

Pentatonic Scale Formula:

Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

The pentatonic scale is similar to a major scale except that the 4th and 7th scale degrees are omitted.

For example:

C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

C Major Pentatonic Scale = C  D  E      G  A      C

Using the same accompaniment as the One Note Improv (previously explored in a past post), watch as I coach my adult student to move from one note to a fuller improvisation using notes from the pentatonic scale.

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Note: after publishing One Note Improv, mp3s have now been made available for accompaniment.

One Note Improv – Swing

One Note Improv – Rock

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More information about the pentatonic scale and “Swing Out,” the tune upon which the improvisation in this video is based can be found in “That’s Jazz, Book 1 available at http:bradleysowash.com/store

Tips:

  • Additional musical elements besides just pitches (articulations, dynamics, rhythms and intention, etc.) contribute to the success of the improvisation.
  • It is not necessary to fill up every empty space in an improvisation. Less is more sometimes.
  • Add an element of surprise by imagining the obvious and then doing something else.  For example, you could avoid playing on the first beat for a couple of phrases.
  • A steady beat is essential.  Also, don’t stop.  Just keep exploring and you and/or your student will discover some nice sounds.

In the next post, I’ll show you a great way to add some color to a basic “pitch palette” such as the pentatonic scale by mixing in some “blue” notes.

Until next time, enjoy your creative musical journey!

autographsmallBradley Sowash

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