Minor Pentatonics

Last Friday, I had my first lesson of the school year. We covered a lot, but I'll share two new ideas I learned that have been great for my playing and practice over the weekend.


The first is the "true" minor pentatonic scale. The typical pentatonic minor scale is conceived as 1-b3-4-5-b7. However, Jim pointed out that this is just a relative equivalent to major pentatonics (i.e. C minor is the same as Eb major).


So if C major pentatonic is 1-2-3-5-6 (C-D-E-G-A), then C minor would be the same but with a b3 (or Eb). The sound of the minor pentatonic is awesome.



We briefly discussed some of its many uses. For instance, C minor pentatonic can be used over an A half-diminished chord (leading to D7 as in a minor ii-V), or over a C-7 chord. Below is a video of me noodling around for a few seconds on a ii half diminished-V-1 using the minor pentatonic.

The short version:

30 minutes pentatonics

20 Minutes voice leading

25 minutes Donna Lee

15 Minutes Gig practice

After improvising for a short while, he suggested that I start extending my voice leading exercises. Usually, I would take a lick and practice it across all chords down the circle of fifths. Here is a video of the basic concept:

So today I spent about 20 minutes creating simple 1-3-5 licks and voice leading them through Lady Bird. I notice after just a few days of doing this that when I improvise for real, I can hold much longer bits of melodic and harmonic data in my memory and I am forced to truly consider all available voice leading options more carefully.

After a break, I started to work on Donna Lee. I referenced Donna Lee before, and in the past I have put a lot of work into the melody. However, I never really invested in the harmony of the tune (and never spent much time improvising on it).


Yes, it's a cliche tune. Possibly as cliche as it gets. However, that doesn't mean the progressions are useless; far from it. I consider Donna Lee to be a gold mine of valuable information for a practicing jazz musician.


I used my standard approach to learning a tune's harmony and played through the form in time, using only chord tones. I started each measure on the lowest chord tone available on my horn. Then I switched it up and started every measure on the top chord tone on my horn.


After going through a few more times, and making sure to start on every root and every third, I put on a track and started improvising. I didn't spend long improvising, but I got to a point where I could navigate the changes fairly well at a fairly fast tempo. In the coming days I will be applying pentatonic patterns and licks to the tune.

Then I had to learn the horn part for "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder for an upcoming gig. This was pretty simple; I just put the song in Transcribe and learned it by ear. I was conscious of stylistic changes and the little nuances of how Stevie's horn players performed, and absorbed as much detail as possible. I also practiced a bit of improvisation over segments without lyrics, just in case I'm asked to fill in some time.


Later this week I'll release a great interview with one of Indiana University's finest cellists, as well as another Friday special.


Happy practicing!



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