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(Previously posted on Guitar Sessions, www.melbay.com)

Altered Pentatonic ScalesTeaching Image

Altered pentatonic scales can add some of those sounds derived from Lydian flat 7 scales and altered dominant scales just by changing one note of a minor pentatonic scale. Here’s an easy and cool way to change your approach to a minor blues and still stay close to familiar territory! Players like Robben Ford, John Scofield and many others occasionally use an approach similar to this. To start let’s look at a 12 bar minor blues.

Addendum 1 (Download an Adobe PDF figure)
Many blues and rock players have played some great solos using only the notes of a C minor pentatonic scale over all four chords. Sounds great ,but doesn't acknowledge the flat 7(G flat) in the A flat 7 chord , or the major third B natural, in the G dominant 7thchord. Here’s where altered pentatonic scales come into use. Over C minor 7th and F minor 7th play a C minor pentatonic scale. The notes are C, E flat, F, G, B flat and are familiar to most blues and rock guitarists.

Addendum 2 (Download an Adobe PDF figure)
Over the A flat 7 chord simply change the note G (8th fret of the B string) to G flat to acknowledge the flat 7 of the chord. You’re replacing the note G with the note G flat resulting in a new scale, an altered pentatonic scale with the notes C, E flat, F, G flat and B flat. Try this out on all 5 positions of a pentatonic scale, but for now let’s stay in the 8th position.

Over the G 7 chord simply change the note C to B to reflect the sound of the major third in that chord. The new scale is C flat(B), E flat ,F , G, and B flat. Let’s see how and why this works and where it comes from. First, look at the scales’ relationship to the chord of the moment. In this case, an A flat 7 chord. Even though we were thinking of the scales as centering on C, the note C against an A flat 7 chord is the major 3rd and defines the chord quality. E flat is the 5th , F is the 6th or 13th, G flat is the flat 7, and B flat is the 9th. Cool tensions, defining the chord quality, C centered and all by changing one note!

Another way to arrive at this is to examine the notes of an A flat lydian flat 7 scale. The notes are A flat, B flat, C, D, E flat, F, and G flat. Five of those seven notes are in our altered pentatonic scale. This is one way for me to get blues- rock players to add sounds that jazz players use, and to realize how easy it can be.

Now lets look at the notes C flat (B), E flat, F, G and B flat and what their relationship is to G 7. C flat (B) is the major 3rd, E flat is the augmented 5th,
F is the flat 7. G is the root and B flat is the raised 9. Once again, cool tensions, guide tones (3rd’s and 7th’s), and all by changing one note.

Another way to arrive at these notes is to see that they can be derived from a G altered dominant scale. The notes are G,A flat, B flat, C flat, D flat, E flat, and F. Looking at triads and pentatonics within scales will always reveal some cool ideas and things to play. Hope you have fun discovering some new things, and I look forward to your comments.

Intervallic Chords (Download an Adobe PDF figure)
While most of us are familiar with the idea of chords being built in 3rd’s, let’s take a look at constructing them in intervals other than thirds.

Using a D Dorian Mode (C Major Scale starting on the 2nd degree) it’s easy to see that 3rd’s reveal a D minor triad, a D minor 7th chord, and the 9th,11th and 13th chords when one keeps superimposing thirds. Let’s see what kind of sounds we get by constructing chords in 4th’s.

Addendum 1 (Download an Adobe PDF figure)
D,G and C and D,G,C, and F are sounds built in 4th’s starting on the root. Cool sounds, but this is just the start. Build a chord based on 4th’s on EVERY degree of the scale. The resulting sonority of these voicings is still implying D Dorian. Something that may help you to use and hear this kind of sound is to hear the top note of each chord and play them in a melodic fashion. Also, some of these shapes have a raised 4th, a result of the use of modal 4th’s and not perfect 4th’s.

Beyond 4th’s, 5th’s, and 6th’s, etc., you can combine any intervals that you like. I’ve written out a couple of my favorites and maybe you’ll get some ideas from them. Here’s a quick overview to help you create your own new chords.

  1. Choose a scale/mode.
  2. Pick two intervals at random.
  3. Construct on every note of the scale.
  4. Use melodically by hearing the top voice.
  5. Smaller intervals imply closeness and wider intervals imply space. Try to combine them, have fun and be creative.


©2005 Carl Filipiak