Pentatonic Substitution Soloing Lesson

Pentatonic substitution…it’s two pretty long words…that means it’s something super complicated, right?

Well, yes and no.

As I explain in the video, it’s a pretty confusing concept at first, but once you get it, it makes things easier. The basic idea is that we’re using different pentatonic scales over the same set of chords (i.e. we’re substituting different pentatonic scales in over the chord).

How many different pentatonic scales do you think we can play over just an E power-chord? You might be surprised!

The Concept of Pentatonic Substitution

As I said, we’re basically just finding all the different pentatonic scales that will work over the one power-chord. Probably the first ones you’ll think of are the major and minor pentatonic scales, right?

So, over an E5 power-chord, you can play E minor pentatonic, or E major pentatonic. Right there you’re already substituting two different scales over the backing track! We’re just going to take things a little bit further…

Pentatonic Scale Shapes

If you know your major and minor pentatonic scales on the guitar already, you’ll have realised that the shapes are the same. You could almost say that we’re just playing two different minor pentatonic scales over the same chord, right?

the E minor pentatonic scale at the 12th fret with root notes highlighted

the E major pentatonic scale at the 8th fret with E notes in red

My question is: why stop there? If we look at E major and E minor pentatonic on the guitar, we could think of them as the E minor and C# minor pentatonic, just based on the shapes.

…and what do these two scales have in common? They both contain an ‘E’ note (in red in the diagrams, above).

So, you could think of it as two pentatonic scales that happen to contain an ‘E’ note, that we’re playing over our E5 chord, right?

Where am I going with this?

Well, if they’re just two scales that contain an E, how many other scales contain an E? Can we use them over our chord, as well? If you follow my logic…

As it turns out, we can!

So that you don’t have to work out how many scales contain this note, I’ve written them out for you here. If you play the pentatonic scale of each of these major scales (E major pentatonic for the E major scale etc.), you should be able to fit them over the E5 chord.

all the different pentatonic substitution guitar scales over an E power-chord

For example, B minor pentatonic (which is the same shapes as D major pentatonic, from the D major scale, above). It contains an E note, so we should be able to use our pentatonic substitution theory with this scale, too.

the B minor pentatonic scale with E notes highlighted in red

The E note is in red in the diagram, and as you can see in the video, this scale works great over the E power-chord.

The Modes

If you know your theory, or you’ve heard of the ‘modes’, you might have guessed where this is leading. See, what we’ve done here, is worked out the modes of the major scale. If you re-arrange the scales above so that they start on an E, you’ll have written out the notes of each mode.

However, pentatonic scales are easier to solo with…and you probably already know the shapes. So, why not use those to cleverly ‘imply’ modal scales?

So, now you have seven different sounds to play with over the same E5 chord! Although, some will definitely work better than others, and you’ll have your own favorites to use.

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