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Matching Scales with Chords

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I am a new player and have learned the Am pentatonic scale. I bought a Boss RC-2 Loop Processor to record my progress and to have some backing tracks. My question is how can I make my own backing track in I IV V and have it match up with the Am pentatonic that I learned. I am going to learn the other scales so the same question would apply. Once I have the scale patterns down how do I match up the chords? I think that if I record an Am E7 F7 that would be the sequence, is this right? Help guys!

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5582

Hi Knightlyd and welcome to Guitar Noise. :D

A I, IV, V progression in the Key of A would be A, D, and E. You can use variations of these chords to add color, try A, D7, and E7.

You can use the Am Pentatonic scale over all of these chords. The Am Pentatonic is very similar to the Blues scale. It is using a minor scale over major chords, this gives it a melancholy or "blue" feel.

You could also shift the Am Pentatonic up to the 10th fret (1st position) to use the Dm Pentatonic over the D chord, go up two more frets to play the Em Pentatonic over the E chord.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5349

Only thing I could add is that you can play the minor pentatonic scale over both major and minor backings. So A D E7 would work just as well as Am Dm Em, or Am Dm7 E7 etc.

Honorable Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 646

The A minor pentatonic (a c d e g) will give a "bluesy", off-key flavour over an A major backing of A (a c# e) D (d f# a) and E (e g# b) or E7 (e g# b d)chords. This may or may not be what you like.

There will be clashing notes (the C will rub against the C# of the A chord, the G against the G# of the E chord) and these clashes need to be resolved.

Over a C major backing (C F and G or G7) it would be more poppy or, depending on style, country or even punk.

Both approaches are usable but give different results.

Helgi Briem
hbriem AT gmail DOT com

Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
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Helgi is making a very good point there. You can't just assume that anything you play will work wonderfully well over the chord progression, even if it's a reasonable general 'match'.

It's good to have some idea of what effect your chord progression is having, and how's it's working with the lead notes to produce various harmonies and effects (both 'right now', and also as part of the overall forward movement of the song). Sometimes you'll be just repeating a note that's in the chord anyway. The root note is a cast iron certainty to work, the other notes in the chord are also safe bets. But it can get a bit predictable if that's all you do. So you can add another note that extends things in a way that creates interest, sets up tension, or whatever. But it's more than just whanging away and assuming that it will all just 'fit' because of the scale you're using.

You can of course analyse it all theoretically in advance, if you're into that sort of thing, or you can just experiment and listen carefully to see what effects you can create. Just to take one angle as an example - if your chord structure at the end is producing a good strong V to I resolution to end the song, you probably want the lead line to be taking the same direction musically. Or if you don't, then it's probably good to be doing something else deliberately and not by accident. :)

What seems to work for me is having a general look through first (in the way that Helgi is showing) just to see where there are obvious opportunities for things to sound either 'bad' or 'good' or 'tense' or 'resolved' or whatever if you play one or other note of the scale at that point. In other words, combinations to either avoid, or to use in a deliberate way. And then go for it, and see how right or wrong I was. :)

Buying a book of easy arrangements of songs that you know can be quite a good learning tool in that way. Some of the choices of melody and chord combinations look quite odd at first sight, but they obviously worked. So playing a bar or two and listening (and looking) at why it works, and what effect it created can be a good 'eye-opener' and 'ear- opener' to the possibilities.

But, hey, just whanging away randomly can be a lot of fun too, and who knows what you might find. :mrgreen: :note1: :note2: Enjoy it.



Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5582

When you play the Am Pentatonic scale over a C Major progression (C, F, G7 for example), you are not playing the Am Pentatonic scale, you are playing the C Major Pentatonic scale.

But it is true that you could play the Am Pentatonic scale over an A Major progression, or an Am progression.

He had asked about a I, IV, V progression, this is why I showed the A major progression. If he had asked for the Im, IV, V progression I would have showed Am. :wink:

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis