Looking into the minor pentatonic (part 1)
The minor pentatonic provides a huge range of musical possibilities. It can be used to provide chords, melodies, and riffs, with no additional notes. It can also be used to bring out very different sound flavours, depending what it is played over. This is the first in a short series of posts on these possibilities. There’ll be very little theory involved. Just ideas for you to try out.
Here’s a few bars I created in Guitar Pro 8. I’ll explain what’s going on over this short series.
Today, I’ll show you a few of the chords found within the minor pentatonic, using E minor pentatonic, and its region 1 shape, with its tonic (start note) located on the 6th, 4th, and 1st strings of a 6 string guitar. The chords can be played as is, or arpeggiated (one note at a time), or arpeggiated with additional pentatonic scale notes added in between to enhance the sound. We’ll start with the scale shape, then a few chord shapes.
Region 1 shape
Notice the labelling used on the notes. I’ll use these labels to indicate which notes are involved in the chord. Also notice some of the notes below have been highlighted (the 1, b3, and 5). These labels refer to notes in the scale. They are as theory would label these notes. They aren’t how the notes in a chord would be labelled theoretically.
“b” appearing in a label is pronounced as “flat”, so b3 is pronounced as “flat 3”.
The tonic chord
1 is the start note of the scale. 1 is known as the tonic. In these examples, 1 aligns with the note E (at fret 0, the nut) on the 6th string. Because 1 is at E, the above is E minor pentatonic. If we slid this shape horizontally, so 1 aligned with the 3rd fret, say, the tonic 1 is at the note G, and we then have G minor pentatonic. We needn’t concern ourselves for now with the names of the notes in the scale … we are much more concerned how to make use of the notes within the scale, regardless where we align it.
(Sliding the shape changes the notes involved, but doesn’t change this labelling)
I can say “play the b3” wherever that shape has been slid to, and you’d know where it is within the shape. Whereas knowing the note names lets you know where to align the shape.
Learn the note names at least for the 6th string, for frets 0, 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10. These are e, f, g, a, b, c, and d, respectively.
If you randomly play notes from any scale, it won’t sound right (especially if you are playing unaccompanied).
The notes that need the most emphasis over a piece of music using the minor pentatonic scale, are 1, b3, and 5. This gives the sound of a minor chord (in this case, an E- chord) rooted at the tonic note. These are the notes we want to appear in the sound the most over time as they provide the main sound flavour we want, making it very clear the music is centred around 1 (E in this case).
Listen to the track above. Grab a guitar, in standard tuning, and play open E while the track is playing. Can you hear how the music is centering around the E? The note E appears in every bar, though in different octaves.
The following chord shapes are shown highlighted within the scale, so you can see where they fit.
Cut down tonic chord (2 note versions)
We don’t need to play all of the notes in the tonic as a chord. If we leave out the b3, we get a very solid rock sound.
There’s one major chord: rooted off b3 (labels b3, 5, b7)
In E minor pentatonic, this is the G chord. Here are some examples
major root at label b3.
major root at label b3.
There are three “power chords” rooted at b3, 4, and b7
- Labels b3, b7, b3 (G5)
- Labels at 4, 1, 4 (A5)
- Labels at b7, 4, b7 (D5)
These are much beloved by hard rock players, such as AC/DC
power chord rooted at b3
power chord rooted at 4
power chord rooted at b7
- Look at the scale shape and learn where the 1, b3, and 5 labelled notes are found. Ask yourself what strings you can find these own. (5 minutes)
- Randomly choose one of these notes, and play it everywhere you can find it in the shape. (1-2 minutes)
- Shut your eyes and do this. If you make a mistake open your eyes and look where your finger is. (2 minutes)
- Try to sing each of these. Always sing 1 first, then one of the others. Also try this by thinkiing of playing a note, sing it, then play it. (5 minutes)
We’ll dive into the riff and how it establishes we’re using E as the tonic, and that the music is at least in the minor camp, rather than the major camp, with a couple of hints the minor pentatonic is being used as the sound flavour for the music (rather than natural minor, say).
Meanwhile, just experiment, making sure the 1, b3, and 5 get used the most, and other than that, use 2 or 3 notes as chords, wherever they lie under you fingers. Have fun. Try this on the bottom three strings, and play chords, and pairs of notes on the 6th and 5th, or 5th and 4th strings,