Pentatonic Pattern in Mode Four

You can't get much more basic than a pentatonic scale. Maybe that's the reason why I haven't spent much time focusing on the pentatonic in recent years. But the flip side is, pentatonics can be applied in some pretty complex ways which, far from simple, require as much practice as any other building block of music. At its essence, the pentatonic is a harmless, soulful, and down-homey scale with which you can't go wrong. But pentatonics are also a prime source of angularity. They're applied extensively in sideslipping. And they're used to realize a variety of harmonies, particularly dominant seventh chords of various alterations. All those possibilities latent within the lowly pentatonic scale! Once you really start exploring its applications, the pentatonic requires extensive work to get it under your fingers. That's probably the bigger reason why I haven't spent much time practicing pentatonics: there's a formidable amount to deal with, and I've chosen to concentrate on other things instead. So I'm by no means writing this post as a master of the pentatonic scale, but rather, as someone who is sharing as he learns. Knowing music theory as I do, I realize how useful the pentatonic scale really is. Frankly, I find its broadness of application a bit daunting, because it means there's a lot, an awful lot, involved in really internalizing the scale in more than a superficial way. But there's nothing to be gained by procrastination, so lately, inspired by the playing of Ernie Watts in his album "Four Plus Four," I've been revisiting my pentatonic scales and plan to spend some time going more in depth with them in my practice sessions. To be sure, there was a time years ago when I worked on them pretty consistently, but my overall abilities on the saxophone have expanded since then, so I'm hoping that today I can get my base level of pentatonic proficiency to snowball. pentatonic-mode-4Here is a simple exercise I've been using, built on mode four of the major pentatonic scale. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) There's nothing particularly novel or creative about it, but that's not the point. Its meant to help develop dexterity in shifting from one tonality to another, in this case by half-step. The exercise begins with the fourth mode of the F pentatonic scale, and then, as you can see, moves chromatically up and then back down. Work it out two to four bars at a time, focusing on problem areas till you've smoothed them out, and then connect the dots one by one until you can play the exercise throughout the full range of your instrument. Good luck, practice hard, and, as always, enjoy yourself! And don't forget to check out the many other exercises, articles, and solo transcriptions on my jazz page. They're all free, and free is good, yes?
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  1. Hey Bob I really like your blog. It’s cool that you are helping spread the info around! I’m a bassist, but am always looking at expanding my soloing abilities. I stumbled on your site while looking for stuff relating to altered scales and such.

    Anyway, concerning the above exercise, you speak of the 4th mode of the major pentatonic. Now, my understanding is that the pentatonic scale is the heptonic scale with the 4th and 7th removed, yielding a 5 note scale. So are you refering to the mode built on the 4th scale tone of the pentatonic scale? Just trying to be clear.



  2. Hi, Frank! Thanks for the encouraging word about my blog. It’s great to get a good word, and I’m glad to know that you’re finding my posts helpful.

    Regarding your question, yes, you’ve got it right: mode four is built on the fourth tone of the pentatonic scale. Since there are no traditional names for pentatonic-based constructions the way that there are for church modes (i.e. dorian, phyrygian, and so forth), simply numbering the pentatonic modes one through five is a practical way of labeling them.

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