Pentatonic Box Breakout
A minor pentatonic = A–C–D–E–G
A7 = A–C#–E–G
D7 = D–F#–A–C
E7 = E–G#–B–D
BY MARC SCHONBRUN
Marc Schonbrun graduated magna cum laude
from the Crane School of Music in New York.
He is an active educator, writer, and performer
in the San Francisco area, and has an eclectic
performing background that includes classical concertos, jazz trios, and rock bands. An
active lecturer, Schonbrun frequently tours the
country explaining music technology to players and teachers. Visit marcschonbrun.com
for more info.
THEORY: Advanced beginner
• Learn how to apply arpeggios
directly to a blues progression.
• Break out of only playing
• Easily combine different
arpeggios in the same position.
Click here to hear
sound clips of
Have you ever wanted to break out of the pentatonic scale when playing
blues? While there is nothing as universally
accepted, used, taught, and beloved as the
minor-pentatonic scale for playing over a
blues progression, it’s not your only option.
The pentatonic scale works well over blues
changes because it contains enough of the
notes from the underlying I–IV–V progression to match up and work well. Plus,
there’s something about the pentatonic scale
that just works.
Here’s an analogy that might help: Using
the pentatonic scale is akin to walking
into a room and saying, “Hey everyone!”
It’s more general than greeting someone
by name, but it almost always works.
Arpeggios are the musical equivalent of
greeting someone by name—it’s the most
direct way you can communicate with a
chord and it’s going to take your playing up
a notch. Let’s take a look at a 12-bar blues
in A to understand what our chord progression is in Fig. 1.
As you can see, there are only three
chords, A7, D7, and E7—the I7, IV7,
and V7, respectively. The pentatonic scale
works just fine for all three chords because
it contains just enough notes to talk to each
chord and sound inside. Take a look at the
notes in the chords as they relate to the
notes in the scales:
The notes in the chords that also appear
in the pentatonic are shown in bold. As
you can see, the scale talks to each chord in
some way, but it does leave out a bunch of
nice tones. For example, the A minor-pen-
tatonic scale doesn’t give you the 3rd of any
of the chords, and the 3rd is the tone that
defines whether a chord is major or minor.
It’s amazing that we’ve gotten away without
proper 3rds in our pentatonic-based blues
playing this long. Arpeggios are going to
help us fill in the missing gaps, and when
combined with pentatonic scales, they’re
going to elevate your playing.
oeoe oeoeoeoe oeoe˙
oeoe oeoeoeoe oeoeÓ
oeoe oeoeoeoe oe Ó