Pentatonic Fluidity

My previous posts about Pentatonics focused on Kurt Rosenwinkel's ability to play them fluidly, through chord changes, without jumping around on the neck. His method consists of coming up with some random chord changes and then playing the appropriate Pentatonic scales as the chords go by rapidly.

So once you've gotten this together (you have been practicing this, right?) what's the next step?

Applying this concept over a real tune. If you don't do this, you're going to be stuck in abstract practice-land. And you don't want to spend too much time there–remember, the reason we're doing all this is to make music.

In the video below, I first demonstrate Kurt's method of playing minor Pentatonics over minor7 chords going up in whole steps starting on Bminor7. Then, I move on to playing Pentatonics over Coltrane's "Giant Steps." This is a difficult tune for any improviser, which is why I chose it to demonstrate the strength of this concept. The chart can be found below the video.

Now let's get to the music!






(Click on the image to see the larger version)


Some notes about the video:

For clarity's sake, the Pentatonic I'm using in both demonstrations is the standard minor Pentatonic known by most musicians: 1 b3 4 5 b7. Using notes, a C minor Pentatonic would be: C Eb F G Bb.

Many musicians think this is the Pentatonic scale, but Pentatonic just signifies a five-note scale. It could be any grouping of any five notes.

Some of you may wonder why I chose the particular Pentatonics I did for "Giant Steps." Without going into music theory, the answer is simple: these Pentatonics sound good over these chords. Why? Because they happen to contain a lot of notes from the basic chord, so I end up outlining the harmony clearly yet there are still some interesting color tones in there as well.

This is a pretty inside way of playing (here's more on outside playing) but it's a great start to getting this concept together. Here is the basic system if you're not familiar with it yet.

Over a minor7 chord, play the Pentatonic with the same root. So, over Aminor7, play A minor Pentatonic.

Over a dominant7 chord, play the Pentatonic a major 6th up/minor 3rd down from the root. So, over D7 play B minor Pentatonic.

Over a major7 chord, play the Pentatonic a major 3rd up/minor 6th down from the root. So, over Gmajor7 play B minor Pentatonic.

There are many more colorful approaches to improvising with this scale, but I'm purposely staying away from implying substitutions or upper structure sounds. My goal was to hew as close as I could to the basic harmony while utilizing only minor Pentatonic scales and keep it relatively simple. There's always time to make things more complicated.

And stay tuned- I'll demonstrate some of the more colorful approaches you can take with your Pentatonic playing in a future video.

Finally, and this is for guitar players, I purposely limited myself to a relatively small space on the neck (on other instruments, you could limit yourself to a narrow melodic range, say from middle C to an octave above that). This is to force me out of using the patterns I'm comfortable with, and into thinking in a more horizontal manner. I want to be aware of where I'm at, what's coming up, and how to get to the next note without necessarily using position playing. There's freedom in that limitation.

Hope you enjoy this one. It was a fun concept to explore.

P.S. A few of you have asked me about the backing tracks to this video. Here's a link. You'll need Apple's Garage band to use it.

[December 2, edited for accuracy: reader Animals2 on Harmony Central caught a discrepancy between blog post and Pentatonics used on the chart]