How To Play Pentatonic Scales Over Giant Steps
Giant Steps is one of those tunes in jazz that sends a bolt of fear through a lot of young or even experienced jazz musicians. It certainly does that to me anyway! The fast harmonic rhythm and the seemingly distant relationships between the chords means it is a very daunting challenge.
However, there is a very cool and simple way of practicing navigating through these changes and it involves using 3 different pentatonic scales.
Harmonic structure of Giant Steps
Before we get into that fully, let’s take a look at the harmonic structure of Giant Steps.
Pentatonic scales on Giant Steps (Bar 1 to 8)
The brackets above the chord symbols show the key centres which the chords are indicating. Giant Steps is based on 3 different key centres all of which are a major 3rd apart. These are B major, G major and Eb major. As you can see from the brackets, these key centres change very quickly and often within the bar which is what makes Giant Steps such a challenging tune.
Pentatonic scales on Giant Steps (Bar 9 to 16)
The final 8 bars of Giant Steps have a much slower and more regular harmonic rhythm than the first and are therefore much easier to play. They are made up of 5 sets of major 2 5 1s all of which last for 2 bars – the first one begins in bar 8 of the previous image.
This is the full layout of the key centres in Giant Steps.
How to play pentatonic scales on Giant steps
To get to grips with this sequence, we have to be comfortable playing and modulating to 3 different key centres. When we are playing on these key centres, a really effective thing to do is to play a major pentatonic scale based on the 5th of whatever key centre you are in.
When we are playing in the key centre of B major, we can play an F# major pentatonic scale.
In the key centre of G major, we can play a D major pentatonic scale.
In the key centre of Eb major, we can play a Bb major pentatonic scale.
So, this means that we can get through this entire tune using only 3 really simple scales.
- F# major pentatonic = F#, G#, A#, C#, D#.
- D major pentatonic = D, E, F#, A, B.
- Bb major pentatonic = Bb, C, D, F, G
How to practice playing pentatonic scales on Giant Steps
The most effective way to practice this concept is to use an exercise called a continuous scale exercise.
This exercise involves playing a specific number of notes of a certain scale and then changing to the nearest note of the next scale when the key centre changes no matter where in the scale you are. We will be using the 3 pentatonic scales I mentioned above and the number of notes that we play before changing scale will be dictated by where the key centres change in the harmony of Giant Steps.
I am going to show you an example of this exercise in the 1st position on the guitar but you can eventually move the concept to any position.
Giant Steps - Pentatonic scale exercise for guitar
This is a full chorus of continuous scale exercise on Giant Steps, starting from the lowest note possible in the position (F or F#) and finishing at the highest note in the position ( A or Ab/G#).
How to use this
1) Play through the exercise or a small section of the exercise
2) Notice how and where the scale changes e.g. In bar 1, we play 4 notes of F# major pentatonic and then 8 notes of D major pentatonic. Then we play 4 notes of Bb major pentatonic and then a full bar (8 notes) to take us to the end of bar 3.
3) Loop this small section until you feel comfortable you can play it without reading it and you can feel where the scale changes.
4) Do this on the next small section and try to link the two sections up.
This exercise is a sure-fire way of improving your fretboard knowledge and your jazz language.
Playing in continuous scales is a technique that has really helped me get to grips with playing jazz and will help your improvisation greatly, almost without you knowing it.
I hope that this has been useful to you all and I will no doubt refer to continuous scale exercises again very soon.
About the author
Luke is a session guitarist and jazz musician based in Cardiff, Wales. He’s currently studying for a degree in Jazz Guitar from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is taught by some of the top musicians in the UK. He regularly performs around the UK with various professional projects whilst also composing original music and performing with his own contemporary jazz trio – 2alike. Luke is also a keen writer and tutor both online and in 1-1 lessons.
This downloadable eBook in PDF format provides 49 jazz solo transcriptions of the greatest jazz musicians of all times with TABS, standard notation and analysis both for guitar teachers and students. Learn to play essential jazz patterns to increase your playing skills.
Did you know that there are several pentatonic scales ? This jazz guitar method is an eBook available as a PDF with standard notation, guitar tabs, diagrams, analysis, audio files and backing tracks. You will find in this booklet 25 easy jazz guitar lines built with common and rare pentatonic scales.
The 2-5-1 sequence is the most common chord progression found in jazz music.It's a must know for anyone who wants to learn jazz language.This method is a printable PDF eBook with 20 II-V-I jazz guitar lines both in major and minor keys that will help you expand your improvisation skills over this chord sequence.
A printable PDF eBook with tabs and standard notation containing five guitar studies that will help you to master arpeggios over a jazz blues progression. Many topics are discussed, dominant 7, minor 7, diminished arpeggios.
How to comp a II-V-I chord progression on guitar with drop 2, drop 3 chords, rootless and inverted voicings. This efficient method is a printable PDF eBook that contains 50 exercises with analysis, tabs & standard notation that will help you to play the essential jazz guitar chords over the famous II-V-I progression.
This PDF method contains 11 guitar lessons with chords, tabs, standard notation, analysis & audio files about the main blues progressions used in jazz music. The purpose of these studies being to hear, play and understand the main jazz-blues changes by using different chord voicings as drop 2, drop, 3, rootless.
This PDF eBook method contains 25 altered jazz guitar licks with tabs, patterns, scale charts and audio files to learn to master the altered scale. How to develop the altered scale, how to apply it to the V of a II-V-I sequence.
This printable method is available as a PDF file containing 40 easy dominant jazz-blues guitar lines with tabs, standard notation, analysis and scale charts.
You will find here an eBook available in PDF containing 25 soul jazz and hard bop guitar licks with tabs and standard notation in the style of Grant Green, Melvin Sparks, George Benson.These jazz lines come with tabs, standard notation, guitar neck diagrams, backing track for practice and 25 audio files for each riff.
This eBook PDF contains 25 dominant diminished jazz guitar patterns using the half-whole diminished scale and some diminished 7th arpeggios.
This printable PDF eBook contains 25 minor jazz guitar licks with tabs, video links, analysis. How to play modes, scales & arpeggios over minor chords.
The tritone substitution is explained through 5 jazz guitar licks with tabs/notation, youtube video links and backing track links. Printable PDF eBook