The major pentatonic scale is one of the most useful and universal, and has the advantage of being easier to learn and use than the full major scale most musicians start with. When it comes to playing by ear and improvising, the major pentatonic is a perfect place to start.

In this month’s Instrument Packs at Musical U our four Resident Pros taught easy, practical ways to put the major pentatonic to use on guitar, bass, piano and when singing. Building on our training modules which teach members to recognise the major pentatonic scale and each of its notes by ear, as well as last month’s Resource Packs on Beginning Improvisation, these new tutorials help make the connection to instrument skills and practical use of the pentatonic when playing and creating music.

Guitar

Pentatonic scales are popular among guitarists due to their versatility for improvising solos over a wide range of chord progressions. The trouble is that most guitarists end up feeling stuck and limited, playing solos which sound and feel robotic, time after time. Dylan Welsh reveals a fresh approach that can help you break free of those constraints and get to know the pentatonic scale in a deep and meaningful way on guitar:

Including:

  • What is the Major Pentatonic? What makes it different from the regular Major scale?
  • Three ways to practice the scale to really internalise it all across the fretboard.
  • How the major and minor pentatonic scales are related.
  • Why and how to sing along as you practice the scale.
  • Practice MP3s for the scales in two keys, plus some call-and-response exercises to practice playing pentatonic riffs by ear.

Getting “fretboard freedom” is a goal for many guitarists and in this tutorial Dylan teaches a versatile and effective approach which not only teaches you where to find the notes across the whole neck but also forges a strong connection between your fingers and your ears, allowing you to find the notes you imagine in your mind or hear in the music you that want to play by ear. Although the focus is the major pentatonic (and that’s a great starting point), in fact, Dylan’s method can be extended across any type of scale.

Bass

The major pentatonic pops up in basslines across a variety of genres and that makes it a powerful tool for the bassist who wants to improvise, write their own lines, or play basslines by ear. Steve Lawson dives deep into the several different ways you’ll encounter this scale being used – and shows you how to get familiar with them all – through fun and creative playing exercises.

Including:

  • Where you’ve heard the major pentatonic before on bass.
  • The useful connection between the pentatonic and the chords of a key.
  • Different ways to play through the notes of the scale to internalise its potential uses.
  • Finding the root note in different positions of the scale.
  • Using certain notes as “pivot” notes in your riffs and lines.
  • MP3 practice tracks to experiment with the major and minor pentatonic in different keys and styles.

As always Steve brings an extensive knowledge of bass history and a creative mindset to learning the practical skills, making this a far more interesting and valuable tutorial on the major pentatonic than the traditional purely-theory-based way of teaching it. Get your Motown groove on!

Piano

Building on the easy and accessible approach to piano improvisation taught in last month’s Resource Pack Sara Campbell shows how the major pentatonic can be a great way to explore easy piano improv. Through a mix of clear finger-pattern exercises and great-sounding improvisation exercises, Sara shows how you can quickly and easily master this valuable tool.

Including:

  • Major Pentatonic Scale basics: how to figure it out in any key.
  • Two Pentatonic Scale warmup exercises to help you get familiar with all 12 pentatonic scales.
  • A fun boogie-bass improvisation exercise.
  • Various patterns you can use to explore the sound of the pentatonic.
  • A handy tip for knowing when to use the pentatonic to improvise.
  • MP3 practice tracks for the warmups and improvisation exercises.
  • Quick reference sheets for the two warmup exercises showing the scales in all 12 keys.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when considering improvisation on piano or how to master scales across all 12 major and minor keys. Fortunately, Sara knows exactly how to crush that barrier and make learning pentatonic improv fun, easy and effective from the very beginning.

Singing

With our singing Resource Packs we’re always keen to help our singers develop their vocal creativity and feel more free and confident in what they sing. This month Clare Wheeler introduced the major pentatonic in a way that makes it feel immediately familiar and manageable, leading smoothly and easily into some great ad-libbing improv exercises, building on last month’s creative warmups.

Including:

  • How to work out the major pentatonic scale from any starting note.
  • Three examples of songs with pentatonic melodies.
  • How to start by singing pentatonic melodies by ear and using that as the basis for improvising.
  • Why learning the major pentatonic gives you the minor pentatonic too.
  • MP3 practice tracks for the major and minor pentatonic and two backing tracks to practice singing melodies and improvising over.

It’s easy for singers to make the mistake of thinking scales are just an exercise to be used when warming up before singing real music. Clare shows why scales can actually be the key to freedom and confidence in creative singing and how to use the major pentatonic as a great way to get started with them.

Coming up next month…

Next month our Resident Pros will be tackling the powerful (but oft-neglected) skill of audiation: how to imagine notes before you sing or play them, to better bring your own musical ideas out into the real world – as well as sneaking in some bonus practice time even when you can’t play your instrument!

If you’re inspired to dive into the major pentatonic then remember you can get this month’s Resource Packs, access to all past and future packs and the chance to ask our Pros any questions you have – as well as 40+ core training modules when you become a member of Musical U. We’d love to see you inside!

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