Most beginner guitar players quickly become confident at improvising with the minor pentatonic scale in a minor key, but feel hopeless improvising over a major key! If this sounds like you, then you’re in luck because I have one simple trick that will allow you to play all of your favourite minor pentatonic licks over a major key! 🤫
Here’s the trick: instead of starting the minor pentatonic scale from the root note of C major chord, start it from the major 3rd – the E note! 👀
How To Play Minor Pentatonic Over Major Chords
Let’s assume the chord C major. Go ahead an drone a C major chord for you to play over. Now from the third degree of the C major key, E, play an E minor pentatonic scale. You’ll notice that this sounds quite tasteful!
In relation to the underlying chord, these notes outline the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th. These are all “colour” notes, and can be used to extend the sound of the underlying chord.
Improvising Over Multiple Chords
Let’s elaborate on this concept by playing a Cmaj7 followed by a Dbmaj7. Irrespective of key, you can treat the Dbmaj7 in exactly the same was at the Cmaj7:
- Play Em Pentatonic over Cmaj7 (E is the maj3 of C)
- Play Fm Pentatonic over Dbmaj7 (F is the maj3 of Db)
Now that you’re grasping the basics, let’s take it a step further with a more challenging progression: Cmaj7 – Ebmaj7 – Dm7 – Dbmaj7 (I – bIII – ii – bII)
In this example chord progression, you can use the following minor pentatonic scale shapes for each chord:
- Cmaj7 – E minor pentatonic
- Ebmaj7 – G minor pentatonic
- Dm7 – D minor pentatonic
- Dbmaj7 – F minor pentatonic
Notice that for each major chord, we began the minor pentatonic scale from the maj3 degree of that chord. For the minor chord, we can play the minor pentatonic scale from the root note of that chord.
This approach encourages you to think about the chord tones rather than relying solely on the parent scale.
Limit Your Movement
If you’re able to visualise the minor pentatonic scale across the whole neck, try to limit your movement as you improvise over the chords. Try to avoid jumping across the neck to play the same shape for every chord. It’s best to identify the corresponding minor pentatonic scales in one position of the neck, as bigger leaps across the fretboard can often sound jarring.
Join my Essential Theory For Guitarists Masterclass if you want to take a deeper dive into foundational music theory topics like intervals, how to construct scales and arpeggios, learn chord theory, and more!
Keep up the great practice, and stay curious! 🎉