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Cool and Unusual Applications of the Minor Pentatonic Scale

This is one my favorite jazz education videos on youtube… the perspective of is that of a brilliant guitarist, but any instrumentalist could use these concepts.  I’ve included a summary below of his main point for  reference (or if you aren’t a guitar player and have trouble following what Vic is doing).

Summary for all instrumentalists:

Over a ii-V7alt-I-VIalt progression, such as:

Dm7 G7alt CMaj7 A7alt

you can use: A minor pentatonic, Bb minor pentatonic, B minor pentatonic, and C minor pentatonic, respectively (one pentatonic scale per chord).


Minor Pentatonic ii-V7alt-I-VI7alt


If we further digest this idea:

Over the ii chord, use a minor pentatonic a perfect 4th down from the root of the ii chord (Dm7-A minor pentatonic).

This hits the 5, b7, root, 2, 4, and 5 of the chord.  This pentatonic scale is very “inside” the changes, and contains no altered notes.  It can be thought of as an incomplete Dorian scale, but starting on the 5th of the dorian scale instead of root of the scale..  It leaves out the 6th and b3rd of the Dorian scale.

Over the V7alt chord, use a minor pentatonic up a minor 3rd from the root of the V7alt chord (G7alt, Bb minor pentatonic).

This hits the b3, b5, b6, b7, b9, and b3 of the chord.  In this context, the pentatonic has many altered tones, and sounds “outside.”  It’s a very hip application of the minor pentatonic scale!  This sound can be thought of as an altered sound, from a melodic minor scale a half-step up from the root of the chord V7 chord.  The melodic minor scale a half-step up from the V7alt chord contains the b9, #9, 3, #4, b13, b7, root, and b9 of the V chord.  This pentatonic in context uses 5 of these same notes from melodic minor harmony, but starts on the #9 and leaves out the 3rd and root of the V chord.

Over the I chord, use a minor pentatonic a half step down from the root of the I chord (CMaj7, B minor pentatonic).

This hits the Maj7, 2, 3, #4 (b5), 6, and Maj7.  This pentatonic sounds very “inside” the changes except for  one altered note, the #4 lydian note.  It can be thought of as a lydian sound, but this pentatonic scale leaves out the root and 5th of the lydian scale.  It starts on the 7th note, the major 7th, of the lydian scale (assuming we are playing the lydian mode over the I chord).

Over the VI7alt chord (V of ii in classical theory), use a minor pentatonic up a minor 3rd from the root of the VI7 chord (A7alt, C minor pentatonic).

Theoretically, what is happening here is the same as what is happening for the V7 chord, just up a whole-step.   It’s an altered sound from melodic minor harmony.  You can reread the description from the V7alt chord and just move everything up a whole-step, substituting the VI7alt chord for the V7alt chord.

Keep in mind that this is only one way to approach the ii-V-I-VI7 chord progression.  There are more traditional ways, of course, and other modern ways of approaching the changes.  This is just one way of getting some very cool sounds out of a ii-V7-I-VI7 progression.

Note that the minor pentatonic scales just move up a half-step at a time.

If we take this idea and move it into all 12 keys, we get these changes paired with the following scales (mp stands of minor pentatonic):

Key of C

Dm7     G7alt     CMaj7     A7alt

A mp    Bb mp    B mp        C mp

Key of F

Gm7     C7alt     FMaj7     D7alt

D mp    Eb mp   E mp        F mp

Key of Bb

Cm7     F7alt     BbMaj7     G7alt

G mp   Ab mp    A mp         Bb mp

Key of Eb

Fm7     Bb7alt     EbMaj7     C7alt

C mp    Db mp     D mp         Eb mp

Key of Ab

Bbm7     Eb7alt     AbMaj7     F7alt

F mp     Gb mp     G mp       Ab mp

Key of Db

Ebm7     Ab7alt     DbMaj7     Bb7alt

Bb mp    B mp        C mp       Db m0

Key of Gb

Abm7     Db7alt     GbMaj7     Eb7alt

Eb mp   E mp       F mp      Gb mp

Key of B

C#m7     F#7alt     BMaj7     G#7alt

G# mp     A mp      A# mp     B mp

(Ab mp)             (Bb mp)

Key of E

F#m7     B7alt     EMaj7     C#7alt

C# mp    D mp    Eb mp      E mp

Key of A

Bm7     E7alt     AMaj7     F#7alt

F# mp   G mp   G# mp      A mp

(Ab mp)

Key of D

Em7     A7alt     DMaj7     B7alt

B mp    C mp      C# mp      D mp

(Db mp)

Key of G

Am7     D7alt     GMaj7     E7alt

E mp     F mp      F# mp     G mp


Minor Pentatonic ii-V7alt-I-VI7alt


Camden Hughes
Camden Hughes
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at


    • Hi Colin,

      Glad you like the site! As for your question, the simplest answer is yes, it can work on unaltered V7 and vi min 7 chords, but you’ve got polytonality in both cases. Let’s look at the progression in the key of C:

      In the key of C, you’d play:

      A minor pentatonic for Dmin7
      Bb minor pentatonic for G7alt
      B minor pentatonic for CMaj7
      C minor pentatonic for A7alt

      An unaltered G7 has all white notes on the piano. The scale is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7 of G7. By contrast, Bb minor pentatonic has a Bb, Db, Eb, F, and Ab, which are the #9, #11, b13, b7 (the only white note in the Bb minor pentatonic scale) and b9 of the G7 chord.

      If the piano player plays an unaltered G7 and you as the soloist are playing Bb minor pentatonic, you’re going to sound like you are playing outside. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Really there is some polytonality going on, which is also not necessarily a bad thing. It can work just fine.

      If your pianist or guitarist is quick, they will hear what you are doing and switch to an altered sound. If not, you’ve got polytonality. Polytonality happens frequently when the soloist and comp are playing slightly (or completely) different changes. If I’m playing an altered sound as a soloist, I’d prefer that my rhythm section is altering their dominant chords, but if not it’s not necessarily the end of the world.

      Similarly, an A7alt has a Bb and a C#, whereas an Amin7 has a B natural and all white notes). A C minor pentatonic has C, Eb, F, G, and Bb, which are #9, #11, b13, b7, and b9 of the A7alt chord).

      If your pianist plays a plain Amin7 (all white notes again) instead of an A7alt (with the Bb and C#) there is also polytonality, but this sound is REALLY common in context. Effectively, the soloist is playing the blues scale in the tonic key (C in this case) while the vi chord is happening. It happens all the time, and it really shouldn’t offend anybody if used judiciously.

      Remember, great jazz musicians may not play the same exact changes every chorus, and a soloist may not make the same harmonic choices every chorus either. Ideally, they are listening to each other and making the same harmonic choices together, with the soloist leading the way, but in reality polytonality happens and isn’t always bad. The V and VI chords are especially subject to subtle changes within a piece, and the comp doesn’t always match up with what the soloist is doing. In general, you want the comp to catch what the soloist is doing, but if they miss each other, it might still work out just fine.

      Anyway, I hope this helps! I love Vic’s lesson. He’s got great ideas!

  1. I studied with Vic Juris for a while. Would take the train from NYC to his place in Jersey for lessons and I learned a lot from him, definitely worth the trips. He’s got an incredible knowledge of music and his instrument.


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