• Learn how to recycle your
stock pentatonic licks.
• Delve into the world of the
dominant pentatonic scale.
• Create hybrid-picked lines
using major b6 pentatonics.
Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.
Have you ever had that “not so fresh”
feeling? No, no, no, I’m not referring
to personal hygiene here folks! I’m referring
to what most of us would call a rut—a situation
where you’re musically boring yourself
to tears while your practice and performance
habits have forced you into musical
stagnation. Maybe you haven’t been able to
generate any new ideas for a while, and you
feel like you’re regurgitating the same old
boring licks. Or maybe you have become
locked in the good old “blues box” and
you can’t find your way out. Perhaps you’re
just someone who’d like to learn a few new
tricks and freshen up your sound a bit.
Never fear, a completely unknown fusion
guitarist is here to help you inject some
fresh ideas into your playing. Bam!
In this lesson we’re going to cover a few
harmonic concepts that jazz musicians commonly
use when working with pentatonic
scales. Basically, we’re going to jazz up our
pentatonic scales and then we’re going to
rock ’em like Dokken. Whoo hoo—are you
One of my favorite things to do musically
is to find creative uses for stock vocabulary
I’m already comfortable with. For instance,
I grew up playing a lot of blues-based music
down South as a kid, so I inherently feel at
home playing bluesy pentatonic ideas. You
know, some good old Allman Brothers, Molly
Hatchet, and Lynyrd Skynyrd licks. Like
many guitarists, I’ll play pentatonic phrases
over classic rock jams, 12-bar blues, country
tunes, metal riffs, funk grooves, fusion
shred-fests, and even jazz standards at times.
Frankly, I play pentatonic licks over practically
everything. Partially because I love the
way they sound and feel, and partially because
they’re a big part of my musical home base.
A cool idea that I stumbled upon some
years ago involves playing minor pentatonic
scales based on the root, 2, and 5 of a minor
7 chord. For example, if you’re playing over
an Am7 chord, you can use A minor pentatonic
(A–C–D–E–G), B minor pentatonic
(B–D–E–F#–A), and E minor pentatonic
(E–G–A–B–D) licks to capture the vibe
of A Dorian (A–B–C–D–E–F#–G). This
is something that modern jazz and fusion
musicians do quite often to outline the
extensions of minor 7 chords (9, 11, 13),
and to obtain a more modal type of sound.
In terms of an Am7, the A minor pentatonic
scale gives you the root, b3, 4, 5, and b7. The B minor pentatonic gives you the 9,
11, 5, 13, and root, while the E minor pentatonic
handles the 5, b7, root, 9, and 11.
In Fig. 1 you can see a string-skipping
lick that outlines A minor pentatonic, B
minor pentatonic, and E minor pentatonic
scales over an implied Am7 chord. This
type of lick is something that you may hear
from such players as Guthrie Govan and
Greg Howe, among others. It features a jazz
approach, but with a rock feel.
When applying this particular concept,
try to avoid the “blue note” (b5) on the
minor pentatonic scales that are based on the
2 and 5 of the chord. For instance, in relation
to Am7 you may want to avoid F when
playing B minor pentatonic and Bb when
playing E minor pentatonic. I’m not saying
don’t try them out, I’m saying be careful.
Your ear will tell you whether it sounds good
or not. Also, along with the example I’ve
given, try using some of your own favorite
minor pentatonic licks based on the root, 2,
and 5 of a minor 7 chord. You’ll probably
notice that they sound a bit different, and
hopefully your stock licks will feel recharged.
Another one of my favorite harmonic
devices involves playing a minor pentatonic
scale a half-step lower than the root
of a major 7 chord to outline the chord’s
extensions. For example, you can play a B
minor pentatonic scale over a Cmaj7 chord
to imply a modal Lydian sound. This will
give you the 7, 9, 3, #11, and 13 of the
chord. This sound is particularly useful in
situations where you would typically play
a Lydian scale (1–2–3–#4–5–6–7) such as
over a IV major 7, a static major 7 chord,
or specifically a maj7#11 chord.
I use a B minor pentatonic lick played in
fourths over a Cmaj7 chord in Fig. 2. This
lick outlines the C Lydian scale (C–D–E–
F#–G–A–B) and is in the style of such jazz
greats as McCoy Tyner and Woody Shaw,
in addition to fusion guitar masters John
Scofield and Scott Henderson.
Having fun yet? Here’s another tip for
you: Along with the stock major and minor
pentatonic scales that we all love and adore,
keep in mind that you can also build pentatonic
scales based on many other scales.
One of my favorites is what is referred to as
the dominant pentatonic scale. This scale is
a great choice when working with dominant
7 chords. You know, the chords that sound
like bingo calls? A7, D9, B11, F13? Bingo!
The dominant pentatonic scale
(1–3–4–5–b7) is based on intervals of the
Mixolydian scale and is played from the
root of a dominant 7 chord. So, if you
were to play this scale over a G7 chord, you
could use the G dominant pentatonic scale
(G–B–C–D–F). Check out Fig. 3 to hear
what the scale sounds like on it’s own and
then play through Fig. 4 to listen to a lick
in context. You’ll hear this sound frequently
in the playing of fusion masters John
McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, and Jan Hammer.
Another one of my favorite harmonic
devices is the major pentatonic b6 scale
(1–2–3–5–b6). This scale is taken from the
fifth mode of the jazz melodic minor scale.
This particular scale sounds especially great
when played one step higher than a nonresolving
dominant 7th chord—specifically,
a dominant 7#11 chord.
For example, if you encounter a static G7
or G7#11 chord you could play the A major
pentatonic b6 scale (A–B–C#–E–F) against
it. In relation to G7#11, this scale gives you
the 9, 3, #11, 13, and b7. So, if you’re in a
funk band or a jam band where you hang
on the same dominant 7 for 35 minutes
straight, this scale is for you! And I jest.
In Fig. 5, you can see one fingering for
the scale, and Fig. 6 is a lick that uses a fair
amount of legato technique, as well as a bit
Florida-based jazz-fusion guitarist James
Hogan has worked with a diverse group
of artists including David Sanborn, Al
Jourgensen, and Dave Brubeck. In addition
to performing, Hogan is also an in-demand
sideman and clinician, and is endorsed by
D’Addario Strings and Parker Guitars. For
more information, visit jameshogan.net