LJS 67: How to Use Pentatonic Scales Over Any Chord


Welcome to episode 67 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about pentatonic scales and how you can use them to improvise over any kind of chord. Penatonic scales are familiar to many but are often not utilized to their full potential. Let’s learn how to take major and minor pentatonics to the next level. Listen in!

Listen to episode 67

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In this episode

C major pentatonic scale:

C minor pentatonic scale:

1. Root Minor Chords

2. Root Dominant 7 Chords

3. The Relative Major Chord

4. The Minor ii Chord of the Relative Major

5. The Major IV Chord of the Relative Major

6. The V7sus Chord of the Relative Major

7. The ii Minor Pentatonic Over the vii Chord

8. Minor Pentatonic a Half Step Down From a Major7(b5)

This lesson comes straight out of our flagship eBook Zero to Improv, which teaches you how to become a great jazz improviser from the ground up.

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Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for learnjazzstandards.com which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publications "500 Jazz Licks" and "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." To learn more, visit www.brentvaartstra.com.


  1. This is a fantastic concept that is very practical, especially for guitar players, since we tend to know pentatonic scales very well as part of our musical development. Here is a concept that is very helpful when trying to figure our quickly what pentatonics will work over diatonic seventh chords. Let's start off with the "scale of thirds" in the Key of C and the "naturally occurring" major and minor pentatonic scales in the Key of C.

    Scale of Thirds:
    C E G B D F A C E G B D F A C

    The "diatonic" major and minor pentatonic scales:
    C major pentatonic (I) same as A minor pentatonic (vi)
    F major pentatonic (IV) same as D minor pentatonic (ii)
    G major pentatonic (V) same as E minor pentatonic (iii)

    The general concept is that the diatonic pentatonic scales that are in a relationship of a diatonic third up or down from the root of the chord will work for improvising. Also, the 5th relationship will work some of the time as will the 7th relationship.
    Here are some examples:
    C major 7 – Am pent (a 3rd below) – Em pent (a 3rd above)
    D minor 7 – F maj pent (a 3rd above) – Am pent (a 5th above)
    E minor 7 – G maj pent (a 3rd above)
    F major 7 – Dm pent (a 3rd below) – Am pent (a 3rd above) – Em pent (a 7th above)
    G dom 7 – Em pent (a 3rd below) – Dm pent (a 5th above)
    A minor 7 – C maj pent (a 3rd above) – Em pent (a 5th above)
    B minor 7b5 – Dm pent (a 3rd above)

    Note, some of these examples are duplicates of more "obvious" choices: 1) play a major pentatonic from the root of a major 7th and dominant seventh chords. 2) play a minor pentatonic from the root of a minor 7th chord.
    The beauty of the major and minor pentatonic scales, is that they stay the same no matter what key you are in!

    The "scale of thirds" also gives you some cool chord substitution concepts using chords built from the pentatonic scales mentioned above. For example, play Am pentatonic chords over an F major 7th chord. Have fun applying these concepts in your playing. Hopefully, this will give you a useful way to organize and see the relationships between 7th chords and pentatonic scales.