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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Rut Busters! Pentatonic Purgatory (#2)

In the previous Rut Busters blog we added a single note to the Minor Pentatonic Scale to help us bust out of Pentatonic Purgatory. Check it out if you haven't already.

In this blog we're going to add a single, different note to the Minor Pentatonic to bust the rut.

The set-up for this is the same as the other so if you've familiarized yourself with the previous Rut Busters blog please bear with the redundancy. I think it's necessary because I can't assume everyone seeing this will have seen the previous Rut Buster.

Firstly, see the introductory blog of the Rut Busters series wherein I talk about the absolute necessity of having ruts - I call them the "default mode," and how you need a positive and accepting attitude about them.

Secondly, concerning the Minor Pentatonic Scale, there are many different permutations (they're called, "modes") and fingerings, but for the sake of simplicity I'm going to focus in on just one piece of the most common Minor Pentatonic pattern. I call these isolated pieces of a scale, "functional areas."

A functional area is a particularly useful area of a scale pattern in terms of ease of fingering. Functional areas are the bread-and-butter vocabulary from which to draw when soloing.

I go into great detail about all this in my lesson series, Concepts for Basic Improvising. What you are about to get here is a small portion of Part 9: Adding the Aeolian 6 to Minor Pentatonic/Dorian Patterns.

We're going to deal with the Minor Pentatonic scale in the key of A. The large scale pattern is this:

The "functional area" of this pattern is this:

I've included the scale degrees or numbered intervals - it's important that you know that information.

  • For those of you who know enough to ask the question, "Why didn't you say, 'flat-7 (or minor 7th) and flat 3 (or minor 3rd)?'" - I refer you to my blog, Arguing Over Fretboard Diagrams.

I'm not going to get into possible fingerings here; just finger it however you want. Fingering is always relative to what it is you're doing - where you're coming from, where you're going and so on.

To help bust the Minor Pentatonic rut we're going to add a single note to the pattern above.

Notice there are two possible notes we could add on the 2nd string between the 5th and the 7th. They are both 6ths. The one closest to the 7th is the Dorian 6th. The one we're going to add for this lesson is the one closest to the 5th - the Aeolian 6th. That results in this pattern:

Getting into the complete Aeolian Mode is beyond the scope of rut busting, but just adding this one note to the Minor Pentatonic scale can back-door you into the Aeolian Mode.

The Aeolian 6th adds a non-pentatonic flavor to any solo - assuming it's consonant with the chord progression.

So let's talk about some chord progressions/songs where the Aeolian 6th is usable.

One would be a Minor Blues; in a Minor Blues, the form goes to a minor IV chord. In the key of A minor, that would be D minor.

As a matter of fact, any tune that goes from A minor to D minor is an appropriate context for the A Minor Pentatonic with the Aeolian 6th added.

The Aeolian 6th is especially strong over the D minor chord because it is the 3rd of the chord - and the 3rd of the chord is the money note!

In one version of the Minor Blues, there is a VI chord in the form - the Aeolian 6th is the root of the VI - another very strong application. A well-known Minor Blues that I use to demonstrate this to students is BB King's The Thrill is Gone. The original is in B minor; for the sake of simplicity I'll keep things in A minor. Here's the form:

So you can think basically in A Minor Pentatonic but you would want to add - and emphasize - the Aeolian 6th on the Dmi and the F chord.

Another common chord progression for which the Aeolian 6th would work is the last section of Stairway to Heaven: / Am / G / F / F /

This is the same progression as All Along the Watchtower.

Another one could be several songs; California Dreaming, Sixteen Tons, In the Year 2525, Stray Cat Strut, Wade in the Water - the list goes on and on. / Am / G / F / E /

Remember, I'm keeping things in Am; the originals may be in other keys.

Another song form that comes to mind is that used by Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry:

/ Am / F / C / G /

For all these songs, and many more, the A Minor Pentatonic scale can be used. Add the Aeolian 6 to the scale - especially over the F chord - and bust that Pentatonic Rut!


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