8 ways to play the minor pentatonic scale over a dominant chord - Inside and outside playing

minor pentatonic scales over dominant chordsThe minor pentatonic scale is by far the most used scale in the world all styles taken together (jazz, blues, rock, reggae, pop, country). One of the explanation is given by the structure, indeed there are no semi-tones in it. It is easy to play on the guitar and it can be used in a whole lot of very different contexts. This lesson will show you 8 ways to use the minor pentatonic scale over a dominant 7 chord. The principle is easy to understand, this consists to play the minor pentatonic scale starting on each tone of the mixolydian scale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7). This method helps to highlight certain notes and brings interesting colors to your jazz guitar lines depending on you want to play outside or inside.

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Mixolydian mode and minor pentatonic scale

The mixolydian mode is generally the first choice when you want to improvise over dominant chords (not altered). This is the fifth mode of the major scale. It is a major type scale because it is built with a major third (3) and a minor seventh (b7). The mixolydian mode formula is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7. For simply learning all the following examples are based on the C mixolydian mode. 

C mixolydian mode C D E F G A Bb
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
Intervals W W H W W H W

 

The minor pentatonic scale is the fifth mode of the major pentatonic scale. As it is shown in the following chart below, the minor pentatonic scale is made up of  a Root (1), a minor third (b3), a fourth (4) a fifth (5) and a minor seventh (b7). As its name implies, there are only five notes. Here is the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A.

A minor pentatonic scale A C D E G
Formula 1 b3 4 5 b7
Intervals W+H W W W+H W

 

Consonant pentatonics

 

Example # 1 - Minor pentatonic scale from the sixth

The first example is to build a minor pentatonic scale from the sixth (or thirteenth) of C mixolydian. This way, we get an A minor pentatonic scale made up of A, C, D, E and G respectively the thirteenth (13), the root (1), the ninth (9), the third (3) and the fifth (5) of C7. By playing a minor pentatonic scale built from the sixth of the mixolydian mode, you highlight the ninth and the thirteenth.

A minor pentatonic scale A C D E G
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 13 1 9 3 5

WARNING - The eleventh

Using the eleventh (11) over a dominant chord can be a little bit disturbing and dissonant due to the distance between the major third and the fourth (which is the eleventh). However, you can easily play the minor pentatonics that contains an 11th over a 7sus4 chords.

Example # 2 - Minor pentatonic scale from the second (ninth)

This second example consists to play a minor pentatonic scale starting on the second (or the 9) of the C mixolydian mode, which is D. That gives the D minor pentatonic scale built with D, F, G, A and C corresponding to the fifth (5), the minor seventh (b7), the root (1), the ninth (9) and the eleventh (11) of C7. In other words, when you play a minor pentatonic scale over a dominant 7 chord starting on the second, you bring interesting colors because of the ninth (9) and the eleventh (11).

 D minor pentatonic scale D F G A C
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 5 b7 1 9 11

Example # 3 - Minor pentatonic scale from the fifth

Here is a third example that uses the minor pentatonic scale starting on the fifth of the mixolydian mode. Since the fifth of C7 is G, we get the G minor pentonic scale (G, Bb, C, D , F) respectively the fifth, minor seventh, root, ninth and eleventh of C7.

G minor pentatonic scale G Bb C D F
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 5 b7 1 9 11

Dissonant pentatonics

 

Example # 4 - Minor pentatonic scale from the third

Playing a minor pentatonic scale starting from the third of dominant 7 chord is considered as dissonant. It must be used with caution because of the presence of the major seventh, which will be very interesting whenever you want to play "outside". So, the tones highlighted are the major third (3), the fifth (5), the thirteenth (6), the major seventh (7) and the ninth (9) of a dominant 7 chord.

E minor pentatonic scale E G A B D
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 3 5 13 7 9

Example # 5 - Minor pentatonic scale from the root

Playing a minor pentatonic scale over a dominant 7 chord that share the same root (which is a major chord) is surely the most favoured tool used by bluesmens. However, it sounds very dissonant because of the minor third (b3) and the fourth (11) and will be very a interesting device you want to play "outside" over a dom7 chord.

 C minor pentatonic scale C Eb F G Bb
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 1 b3 11 5 b7

Example # 6 - Minor pentatonic scale from the major seventh

This minor pentatonic scale when played starting from the major seventh of a dominant seventh chord, contain two interesting dissonant tones, the major seventh (7) and the sharp eleventh (#11). 

B minor pentatonic scale B D E F# A
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 7 9 3 #11 13

Outside pentatonics

 

Example # 7 - Minor pentatonic scale from the fourth

A minor penatonic scale starting from the fourth of a dominant scale obviously highlights the major eleventh (which is dissonant against the major third) and also contain two other dissonant tones as the flat thirteenth (b13), and the minor third (b3).

 F minor pentatonic scale F Ab Bb C Eb
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord 11 b13 b7 1 b3

 

Example # 8 - Minor pentatonic scale from the minor seventh

And the last one consist to play a minor pentatonic scale starting from the minor seventh of a dominant chord. The tones are highlighted are minor seventh (b7), the flat ninth (b9), the minor third (b3), the eleventh (11) and the flat thirteenth.

Bb minor pentatonic scale Bb Db Eb F Ab
Analysis compared to a C dominant 7 chord b7 b9 b3 4 (11) b13

Conclusion

There are some additional tips and tricks to use the pentatonic scale over a dominant 7 chord. For example, starting from minor second (b2), from the sharp eleventh (#11),  the minor third (b3), the sharp ninth (#5). Try to apply these tips to your guitar improvisations and don't be afraid to experiment your own outside lines. It is indeed on evident that you have to work in twelve keys all over the guitar neck.

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