Improvising - Part One
Pentatonics -- They're Your Friends!
A few years back an "Unplugged" special on MTV featured aperformer, his band, and a backup string quartet. At one point(while everyone was taking solos), the singer motioned for thestring players to take a solo also.And nothing happened! These string performers were greatmusicians -- but they didn't know how to improvise. It's notsomething a classically trained violinist is called upon to dothat often.Being a great improviser isn't easy -- but being a decentimproviser isn't hard. You just have to know a few things aboutkeys, chords, and
.A pentatonic is simply a five note scale. We're interested inMajor Pentatonics and Minor Pentatonics. In a majorpentatonic, the five notes are: root, whole step, whole step,whole-and-a-half, whole, and finally root again (octave). Minorpentatonics are: root, whole-and-a-half, whole step, wholestep, whole-and-a-half, root again (octave). (Note: I know theseare six notes. I included the root twice, once as root, again asthe octave. The actual scale is only the first five notes.)For example, a G-Major pentatonic contains the notes G, A, B,D, and E. Interestingly enough, an E-Minor pentatonic containsthe same five notes -- but it starts on a different root -- E, G, A,B, D! If the first note after the root is a whole step, it's a majorpentatonic. Country and folk music commonly use majorpentatonics. If the first note after the root is a step-and-a-half,it's a minor pentatonic. Rock and roll and blues generally useminor pentatonics.Let's look again at the G-Major pentatonic -- G,A,B,D,E. Theseare the three notes in a G-Major chord (G,B,D), plus a second(A) and a sixth (E). The E-Minor pentatonic contains the fournotes in a minor seventh chord (E,G,B,D) plus a fourth (A).More on these later -- you don't need to remember them rightnow!If you pick up your instrument and play the five pentatonicnotes, you might think it feels exotic -- perhaps a little Asian --