Pentatonic scales for improvisation – piano tutorial

Jazz Piano
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Pentatonic scales are useful things to know if you want to learn how to improvise on the piano, and especially if you’re interested in jazz and blues.

In this piano tutorial I take a quick look at both major and minor pentatonic scales, and look at how you can use them to improve your improvisation.

The great thing about pentatonics is how universal they are, and one of the points I make here is that they usually sound “right” whenever you play them against a given chord progression (as long as the scale is in the same key as the progression, obviously!)

That means when you’re improvising on the piano you can use pentatonic scales as a kind of safe haven. They will almost always sound good, irrespective of the chords you are playing underneath.

By the way, if you’re not sure how to get started with basic improvisation, have a look at my playlist of blues piano tutorials. These feature the basic techniques you need to get started with improvisation. In the near future I’m also going to post some videos that approach basic improvisation using other styles of music.

It’s also worth saying that a thorough knowledge of basic piano scales will help you here. It may seem strange, but having a regular run through of the major and minor scales that your piano teacher taught you will help you master both pentatonic improvisation and more elaborate forms.

The pentatonic improvisation exercise I’ve included in the tutorial uses the chord sequence from the verse section of Georgia on my Mind (by Hoagy Carmichael, made famous by Ray Charles, of course). I’m not playing the tune here – just using that section of the progression because it uses several chords that are outside the natural key (F major). This is useful, because it illustrates how you can use pentatonic scales against more or less any chord to get a good (and often quite jazzy) effect.

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