Pentatonic scales: a straightforward way to improvise on the violin

Here is a video where I explain how to work with pentatonic scales to improvise on the violin! The pentatonic scale is very useful and can give your playing a very interesting color.


Pentatonic scales are five-note scales:

For example, C major: C-D-E-G-A

The relative minor sound is A minor, which has the same notes:A-C-D-E-G

To improvise on the pentatonic scale in a given key, it is enough to first use the pentatonic scale corresponding to the chord.


For example, in G minor, I can use the G minor pentatonic: G-Bb-C-D-F

Pour G major, it will be: G-A-C-D-F

Play around with improvisation by only using the notes of the pentatonic scale but changing the order of the notes! This way you can get interesting patterns for improvisation! Obviously, we will use the whole register of the violin, from the lowest to the highest notes, and thus the spectrum is quite wide!


Technique for improvising with the pentatonic

To acquire more agility and freedom to improvise on this scale, it is necessary to work it in all directions to really get the feel of it in your fingers...

Here are some exercises to practice the pentatonic scale:

  • Play the scale and practice it in order, at different speeds
  • with jumps: a one note jump up, then joint note down
  • In groups of three notes going up and down
  • By group of 4 notes going up and down

You will find the score of these exercises on the summary sheet to download below!


Work on these exercises in all keys!

This gives you a lot of freedom and ease to improvise on all the pieces, on any chord! You will be able to cope with all situations, for example improvising in a difficult key (D-flat…E-flat..etc…)

You can often stay on the pentatonic key of the piece throughout the piece, even on chord changes, for example to improvise on a blues. But be careful, even if the pentatonic can save some situations, you still need to know the chords of a piece, it doesn’t work all the time…


Why is the pentatonic effect so successful?

The effect of improvisation with the pentatonic is guaranteed, because by using it one systematically avoids playing joint notes like when improvising on a 7-note scale. Indeed there are more “note jumps” between the notes of the pentatonic, since there are only 5 notes.

The possibilities of pentatonic scales

This work is also useful for your future as an improviser, because the pentatonic scales can be used to make superstructures in improvisation, by playing the pentatonic of a key on a chord of another key, to bring out certain colors of this chord, or to break out of the chord and play “out”! As you have understood, the possibilities of pentatonic scales are multiple.


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Below, you will find a PDF to download with a short summary of the article and the score. This way, you will also be kept up to date with the latest news on the site!

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[sdfile url=” /2016/12/summary-article-PENTATONICS.pdf”]

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