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How to Jam and Never Be Off Key
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 

Honorary tenured advisor

April 14, 2015 - 1:35 pm
Member Since: January 19, 2014
Forum Posts: 973
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@DanielB posted a list of Youtube backing tracks for people to jam with.  Did you know that the vast majority of rock, blues and country music follows the simple 1-4-5 chord progression? That's true for both major and minor chord progressions, but let's look at just major chord progressions for starters. If the song is in the key of G, that means that the chords are going to be G(root)-C(4th)-D(5th).  Pick any key, and the formula is the same.

There is a musical scale that will allow you to never play a bad sounding note with any of the chords in a 1-4-5 major chord progression.  It's called the Major Pentatonic Scale.  Since Penta means 5, it means that the scale has only five different notes in it.  They are: root,2,3,5,6, then the next note is the octave. So, by simply dropping the 4th and the 7th notes from the scale we can play all of those notes and never hit one that will sound sour.

Let's see how that would look for playing in the key of G in first position. We'll be playing G-A-B-D-E-G and the fingerings will be:

G:  0-1-2

D: 0-1-3

A: 0-1-3

E: 0-2

To play any major pentatonic scale using a shifting pattern (no open strings), one would always start at the root note and proceed from there.  The pattern for scales starting on the G string is:

G: 1-2-3

D: 1-2-4

A: 1-2-4

E: 1-3

So just slide your index finger to the appropriate root note for the key and play that pattern and no note you play will sound wrong.  Rock on.

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright


April 14, 2015 - 5:33 pm
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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Great post, Uzi.

And yes, the major pentatonic is an easy and excellent place to begin improvisation or composing, since it is very "safe" in avoiding dissonance.  There may be a bit of dissonance when using it over the other chords in the standard "vanilla" chords (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viidim), but it will still work, because the ear expects that bit of dissonance, and the "tension" from it is part of how minor chords like the iii or vi work in chord progressions.

Dissonance produces tension, while consonance (like using a Major pentatonic over a I, IV, V progression) is release/relief from it.  The judicious and artistic use of tension and release is how we make music interesting and dynamic.  Some genres have set patterns of it that can be used and that give them their distinctive sound, like some forms of jazz and blues for example. 

At first though, it is good to stick to "safe" notes by using major pentatonic over something like a I IV V, as you have explained. 

I'll explain a case of intentional dissonance in a scale/progression combination, but I'll start another thread for it, since I don't want to risk confusing folks.  It would be a shame to "muddy the waters" on a nice clean explanation of an improvisation/composing tactic like you've explained here. 

Def 5 stars.


PS: The post I mentioned is now done: 


"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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