Pentatonics, Downbeats and Chord Tones. Oh My.

Here is some more stuff about pentatonics that goes along with the first post on this blog about pentatonic patterns, ala Mr. Bergonzi.

First off, there are the positions, or modes or whatever you want to call them. I have seen them called both things, but all I am referring to is just playing the notes of the pentatonic scale, but starting on notes other than the root.

Simple. It's the same exact scale, no notes change from the original formula. Just start on a note other than the root and go up (or down) the rest of the notes in the scale in order. Simple.

For example, in G min Pentatonic the notes are:

G - Root
Bb - Third - even though this is the second note in the scale, it is usually referred to as the third, as it is a third away from the root.
C - Fourth away from the root.
D - Fifth away from the root
F - Seventh (minor, or a whole step down) from the root

Those are the notes you get starting from the root, and it is a very familiar finger shape that you were probably shown right away by someone when you started playing.

It looks like this on the neck:

Wonderful. But there are other shapes that fit that same scale that are not as common and are not always shown or explained right away, one for each of the remaining notes of the pentatonic. I won't explain all of them here, because they are contained in that nifty little pdf right under this paragraph, and you can see for yourself what the shapes are when you start a minor pentatonic from each note, or degree if you will (if we are going to be all music school about it) of the a minor pentatonic scale. This doc has Gmin, Amin and Emin in it.

The shapes are the same for every pentatonic (if you have a normally tuned bass), so once you memorize them, you have all of them for the pentatonics. Well, for the minor ones anyways. There are other pentatonic scales (lots and lots) that will have a slightly different fingering, but the same concept applies. All you do is start the scale on each note to get the different shapes for that type of scale - major, minor, half-demolished fallopian minor, whatever it is. The third shape will always be the third shape for that type of scale.

Okay. So what. Why do you care about this? Because you are sick of playing your solo by starting on the root of the chord you are on and going up the pentatonic scale, thats why! So now you don't have to, you can start on the THIRD of the scale or the FIFTH and get into some new places on the neck. Far out.

But there is even more to this.

First, a small diversion into the idea of strong beats and weak beats. The best place to get up to speed on this is to read a book by Hal Galper called "Forward Motion". There is the link, and here is a link to the first page that describes the basic concept.

Super quick, the idea of Forward Motion and implying the chord you are on in the strongest possible way is this:
  1. Beats 1 and 3 of a measure are strong, (Galper calls them "Release" beats) 2 and 4 are weak(er) (He calls these "Tension" beats). This is all in good ol' 4/4 of course.

  2. If you play chord tones of the chord you are on (the root, the third, the fifth or the seventh) on downbeats it implies the harmony and outlines what chord you are on in a stronger way. Much stronger. Downbeats meaning, if you are counting eighth notes, the numbers "1", "2", "3" and "4" are the stronger downbeats, not the "ands" (or upbeats) that go in between. Just wait, you will see.
Now there is a LOT more to it than that and lots of people have expounded upon this idea in lots of ways - Galper, Jeff Berlin in his chord tone book, and Ed Friedland talks about it in his "Bass Improvisation" book also. Lots of sax players and piano players talk about this stuff all over the net also. It is a pretty well understood and recognized phenomenon.

Great. SO WHAT.

Well, this is so what - now we can look at the different modes/positions/patterns of the minor pentatonic scale and figure out which one is the "strongest". In other words, all things being equal, which one of those patterns is the musical equivalent of the loudest way to shout, in one measure "Hey fools! I am playing G min Pentatonic, Yo!"

To figure this out, lets count the following items in each mode/position/pattern of the scale that occur during one measure:

  1. Count occurrences of the root note. It is still the boss and tells the chord the loudest.
  2. Count occurrences of chord tones. Tells everyone if it is minor or major or what is up.
  3. and extra special - the count occurrences of chord tones on those strong downbeats of the measure. This just hammers it home.

So what do we get...? Which mode/pattern/position of the minor pentatonic scale is the absolutely strongest one, outlining the current chord you are on by using the most chord tones and putting them in the most powerfully rhythmic position possible?

Is it when you start from the 5th? From the third?

I won't spoil it by giving away the answer, but the answer is contained in the PDF below, which has pictures and everything shows you the the answer. It may surprise you which one it is. Props to whoever comments first with the answer.


Anonymous said...

Starting on the 7th.

Bassist Ridiculoso said...

And yes, we have a winner.

The 7th degree has the most roots, the most chord tones, and plays them all on downbeats, so it wins the battle of the strongest.

Jason said...

That doesn't make much since to me. You could start on the root note for any of the modes/patterns/positions (except for maybe the 2nd may be harder) and still play whatever you wanted.

But, I do like that you pointed out the chord notes landing on the downbeat thing, I'll start thinking about that.

Bassist Ridiculoso said...

Yup, you can begin a phrase from any note of the pentatonic scale. I have just noticed a lot of bass players are stuck on the root pattern, so I put the other ones out there as a "reminder".

The main point of the article is that when you start a pentatonic scale from different places, each starting position has some specific rhythmic and harmonic qualities about it that you should be aware of and either take advantage of those special things or avoid them depending on what you are after.

Just another tool for the belt clip is all.

In a future post I might show how to "fix" the patterns that do not have as many chord tones in them, or that have them fall on weak beats when you run the pattern.

Anyone already figured it out? :)

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