Pentatonic scales for improvisation

by Bill on February 17, 2011

Pentatonic scales are really handy for improvisation. This tutorial focuses on using pentatonics for improvising on the piano, but the basic theory and practice that I’m talking about can be applied to just about any instrument playing in any genre - jazz, blues, pop or whatever.

The key point I make in the video is about the universality of pentatonic scales. The regular major and minor scales that we learn in our music lessons are actually a product of the Western European musical tradition, and don’t appear in, say, Chinese or native American music.

Pentatonics, however, are a feature of just about every form of pitch-based music that humanity has ever created. They are, you might say, deeply rooted in the human brain and integral to our understanding of what music is. The benefit of that to you, as an musical improviser, is that notes taken from the pentatonic scale of the key you are playing in are always “safe ground”. It’s pretty hard to play something that sounds wrong or out of place if you confine yourself to the pentatonic scale.

The other useful thing to know about pentatonics is that you can use them to write really memorable tunes. However, that’s another subject for another post. If you have any questions on the video above, do the usual thing and stick them either in the comment thread below or on the original YouTube video page.

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