IFR blog > Student questions > How does IFR address pentatonic scales

How does IFR address pentatonic scales?


I enjoy the Improvise For Real method very much. Just wanted to ask, with pentatonic scales being so important in music around the world, and particularly loved by guitarists, how can we incorporate them into our practice?


David's response:

Hi Paul,

Great question! As you say, pentatonic scales are an important part of almost all musical cultures around the world. Pentatonic scales are also very beautiful material for soloing, and they can be used in a variety of surprising ways. Just to get you started, here are a few observations:

The two most important tonal centers in modern music are notes 1 and 6. These are the tonal centers that we typically call "major" and "minor". So let's look at the pentatonic scales that are most commonly played in each of these harmonic environments.

Pentatonic Major:

If note 1 is the tonal center, we feel this as a major key and you have probably learned to play the major pentatonic scale which is defined as notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Pentatonic Minor:

But if note 6 is the tonal center then we would feel this as a minor key and you might want to play the minor pentatonic scale. If you look at where these notes actually fall on your IFR tonal map, the notes work out to be 6, 1, 2, 3 and 5.

So here's the interesting observation:

Both of these scales are made from the exact same five notes!

The only thing that changes is the order of the notes. But in both cases we are playing notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. So actually, the major and minor pentatonic scales are in fact one single scale.

Playing activity:

A great way to explore these sounds is to practice improvising with just the notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 as you improvise over both the 1 chord and also the 6- chord. When you play these notes over the 1 chord you will be playing what we call the "major pentatonic scale". When you play them over the 6- chord you will be playing the "minor pentatonic scale". In both cases you will be playing the exact same five notes on your tonal map, but you will hear how differently the music sounds simply because you're feeling the tonal center in a different place.

This is a great example of how you can use the IFR tonal map concept to understand any musical idea and integrate it into your vision of the octave. Whenever you come across a musical sound or idea that you find especially interesting (a particular scale, a beautiful melody, a lick from another musician's solo, etc.), you should always take a moment to clarify which notes on your tonal map make up this musical idea. This is where you will make many of your most important musical discoveries, and I encourage you to do as much of this as you can.

Happy jamming!