Here is an easy way to generate some fresh Pentatonic scales!

Start with a 4 note-arpeggio. Let's take Dm7: D F A C

All we need to do is insert an extension note between two of the chord tones. That extension note may be a 9th, an 11th, or a 13th.

Here are the possible results:

D (E) F A C

D F (G) A C (this one is the traditional Minor Pentatonic)

D F (G#) A C

D F A (Bb) C

D F A (B) C

(note that I avoided the b9 on the minor7th Chord)

We can use any 4-note arpeggio as the starting point.

The most possibilities will be found with the Dominant chord. Let's take a basic G7: G B D F

Here are the Pentatonics:

G (Ab) B D F

G (A) B D F (this one is known as the basic Dominant Pentatonic)

G (A#) B D F

G B (C) D F

G B (C#) D F

G B D (Eb) F

G B D (E) F

Now, instead of the generic G7 arpeggio used as a starting point, we could use G+7: G B D# F

We will then get 6 additional Pentatonics:

G (Ab) B D# F

G (A) B D# F

G (A#) B D# F

G B (C) D# F

G B (C#) D# F

G B D# (E) F

How about G7(b5): G B Db F?

Here are the generated Pentatonics:

G (Ab) B Db F

G (A) B Db F

G (A#) B Db F

G B (C) Db F

G B Db (Eb) F

G B Db (E) F

If I counted correctly, that's a total of 19 new Pentatonics for the Dominant chord (7 + 6 + 6 = 19)

Of course, we are not required to like all of those new scales. Some are quite pleasing and melodic sounding, whereas some other ones are a little harder to accept-- I'm thinking particularly about those that have too many consecutive 1/2 steps for example. In any case, this simple approach should provide some new material to explore. Those Pentatonic scales may be used as Improvisation material (they are part scale and part arpeggio) or even as the basis for Composition. If you feel like exploring the subject, you may want to see Ron Miller's book entitled "Modal Jazz Composition & Harmony Vol.2"-- he has a whole chapter devoted to Composition with Pentatonic Scales.

I hope you will have fun with this simple (but deliberately limited) method of creating a few new Pentatonic scales from 4-note arpeggios. In case you are wondering, here's why I'm saying that this method is deliberately limited: remember that the wide definition of a Pentatonic Scale is ANY scale that contains 5 notes-- that makes a grand total of 330!!! (thanks to Wayne Krantz for the info)

Ron Miller limited his list of usable Pentatonics so that there would be no interval greater than a Tritone ("this is to attempt to limit the number of created scales that may have too many adjacent semitones-- any modality within the scale would be too obscure, and the shape of the generated Pentatonic would not be musical."). Meanwhile, his list still has 231 Scales...

We could also avoid those scales that have an interval wider than the Augmented 2nd-- after all, that is often one of the prerequisites for a legitimate "scale" (see my other article What Is A Scale?)

As for fingering our new-found modes, the most logical way is to begin with the arpeggio fingerings in all 5 positions (aka the CAGED system) and add the extra note from there. If the extra note in NOT within the usual position, reach for it with the 1st finger when ascending, or with the 4th finger when descending.

and here are a few more articles I wrote on the subject of Pentatonics:

Pick Your Pentatonic: a Review of The Most Important Pentatonic Scales
Improvising With Various Pentatonics
Pentatonics For The Sus7 Chord
Altered Pentatonics



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