Welcome to “Cold Fusion,” a new Keyboard column where we’ll be exploring concepts of jazz-fusion playing from the ground up. Let’s begin with pentatonic soloing.
Pentatonic scales are especially relevant when it comes to
improvisation in a jazz-fusion context because of the many patterns you
can play with them. Like other tools that help you improvise, the
pentatonic scale should be used sparingly, but it can be a fun way to
navigate through different kinds of chord progressions, and especially
when jamming over mostly one-chord modal songs. You can also use them in
songs with a lot of chord changes by timing your phrases to end on a
target chord. Even though the pattern might be slightly dissonant with
regard to the approaching chords, if the notes fit the target chord,
your ear will interpret them as fitting the changes.
1. Pentatonic Basics
Ex. 1 illustrates the C major pentatonic scale. Any major pentatonic scale contains scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 from the major scale.
2. Pentatonic Practice
Ex. 2 demonstrates one way you can practice a C major pentatonic scale by breaking it down into groups of four notes per phrase.
3. Pentatonic Patterns
Ex. 3 illustrates a useful pentatonic pattern
created by playing every other note in the pentatonic scale in ascending
and descending shapes. Practicing these patterns in all 12 keys will
help you develop facility with this technique. The major pentatonic
scale sounds great when played starting on the root or fifth of a major seventh chord, or the flat third or flat seventh degree of a minor seventh chord.
4. Minor Pentatonic Scales
Ex. 4 illustrates the C minor pentatonic scale. Note that this scale contains scale degrees 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 from the natural minor scale.
5. Pentatonic Phrases
Many pentatonic phrases have become mainstays of jazz improvisation. Exs. 5a through 5d illustrate
variations that you can use in your sonic explorations. It’s
interesting to note that compared to the keyboard, the way the guitar is
set up makes it easy to play pentatonic patterns.
6. Pentatonics in Action
Since melodies can often be thought of as distilled or crystallized improvisations, Ex. 6 illustrates the melody of my song “Live Wire,” which is the first track on my latest CD, Galaxy. Note the use of pentatonic patterns throughout.
“Even fragments of pentatonic scales can be useful in improvisation. If you check out
John Coltrane’s solo on ‘Giant Steps’ you’ll see that he starts this
solo by playing a pentatonic scale fragment starting on the root of each
chord,” says acclaimed jazz-fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber. His latest release is Galaxy. Find out more at lorber.com.