Combining The Major Scale With The Minor Pentatonic – Turning Scales into Solos – Part 4

Last time out, in The Major and the Minor, we listened to the tonal qualities of both the major and the minor pentatonic scales when used for soloing over a typical blues progression. Both had their merits. The major pentatonic was good at defining the major tonality while the minor pentatonic added flavor by its use of “blue notes.” And for those of you who may have forgotten about blue notes (or simply didn’t read the last lesson), here’s a quick recap, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In jazz and blues, a blue note (also “worried” note) is a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale for expressive purposes. Typically the alteration is a semitone or less, but this varies among performers and genres.

Sort of continuing where we left off, I’d like to introduce you to the idea of combining scales. But before we move on, let’s take a brief step sideways to think a moment about what makes music interesting. At its heart, music is a constant shift between disharmony and harmony, what’s generally referred to in terms of “tension and resolution.” Good melodies, for example, don’t simply use notes taken from the chords of the chord progression of a song. It’s the interplay of the melodic notes against the chord progression that creates this give-and-take of tension and resolution.

Solos do this as well. Otherwise all soloing would be nothing but chord arpeggios. And we would be reading a lesson on “Turning Arpeggios into Solos” and not “Turning Scales into Solos!”

We got a front row seat for this in our last lesson when used the minor pentatonic scale to solo over the major chords of a typical twelve bar blues progression. Since we specifically used the C minor pentatonic scale (C, Eb, F, G and Bb) to solo over a progression with the chords C, F and G, we had blue notes of the C major scale – Eb (flatted third) and Bb (flatted seventh) – as well as a blue note of F scale (Eb being the flatted seventh) and two blue notes of G (Bb, which is the flatted third and F, which is the flatted seventh). Each chord of our blues progression was constantly being played against a number of blue notes that would then resolve into a note of the major chord.

But as interesting as each of these pentatonic scales is by itself, combining them gives you a much deeper palette of colors to work with.

Let’s take another look at the actual notes of the C major pentatonic scale:


And now let’s run through the notes of the C minor pentatonic scale:

C Eb F G Bb

This certainly gives us a lot more options. The playing off of the minor third against the major third (the Eb and E in the key of C) is something that you hear quite often in blues riffs.

Some folks like to go a step further, combining the entire major scale with the minor pentatonic. Doing so adds the major seven, which is the major third of the V chord (the B note of the G chord in our key of C) of our blues progression. Although this may seem like a lot of notes for a scale, it certainly adds a lot to our soloing options.

First, let’s take a look at the notes we’re talking about, still using the key of C major as our example:

C D Eb E F G A Bb B C

Now, let’s see where these would fall if we were using a Root Six based C major scale (plus the two blue notes Eb and Bb). First, we’ll look at the two octave C major scale itself:

Example 1

So far, so good! Now, let’s add the blue notes taken from our C minor pentatonic scale. Since I’m planning on doing most of my soloing today on the high strings, we’ll add these blue notes only to the second octave:

Example 2

Finally, let’s extend this scale up to the thirteen fret, which will give us a little more room to play with:

Example 3

You should know the drill from here. Work through this “combined scale,” using both these last two examples, but focus on Example 3 most of all. This may seem hard to some of you as you’re used to scale patterns and now you’re likely to find yourself thinking in terms of the actual notes themselves. But that’s part of where we’re trying to go, so hang in there!

Then take a listen to the sort of thing you can do:

Yes, I’m still overplaying! But the interweaving of the major scale with the two notes taken from the minor pentatonic certainly does give this a lot of interesting things to say, doesn’t it? Playing both the Eb and E off of the C chord creates tension and release in the same phrase. It’s no wonder this sort of sound is used in so many blues solos.

Okay, your turn! Here’s an “extended version” of our blues in C chord progression for you to work with:

Remember that the whole purpose of this particular series of lessons is to demonstrate that even though we could use a single scale to base a solo on, there are all sorts of other possibilities. Up until this point we’ve examined only the major scale and the pentatonic, the latter in both major and minor forms. Now we’ve opened up a lot more potential by combining two scales.

Next time out, we’ll take a look at the “blues scale,” right after we get done arguing about what, exactly, the “blues scale” is!

And, as always, please feel free to write me with any questions. Either leave me a message at the forum page (you can “Instant Message” me if you’re a member) or mail me directly at [email protected]

Until next time…