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May 6, 2007 | Sins of the Pentatonic

Periodically, we'd get a request for applying our FFcP approach to Pentatonics. For years we avoided the notion. From where we sit, too often, many proficient Folk/Bluegrass mandolinists would be entrenched in mindless pentatonic wandering, as in this genre it's far to easy to get away with filling space. The harmonic challenge of the rapidly changing tonal centers of jazz did not suit the use of such vocabulary; it was the equivalent of Paris Hilton discussing Dostoevskii at a book club meeting.

We went through a bit of epiphany on this. Many respected jazz pedagogists implement pentatonic studies, Ramon Ricker, Willy Thomas, Bruce Saunders, Jerry Bergonzi, Mark Levine, for example. The trick however is in what they do with these scales. Unlike Bluegrass, it's a means to and end, and not an end unto itself.

We discussed some of the advanced jazz application in our recent article Jazzed Pentatonics, based on the exploration of Bruce Saunders guitar book, appropriately titled "Jazz Pentatonics." There are some fascinating opportunities and it's no surprise especially for guitarists who grew up jamming on minor pentatonics in high school garage bands. (Of course some professional metal guitarists never grew out of these, either, and yes they are making big bucks...) There's something about the way minor pentatonic scales fit the fingers on the guitar fretboard. Bruce explains how you can use pentatonics in chromatic ascensions in jazz turnarounds. (What does that mean? Get his book and find out...)

We think there's merit in pentatonic fluency, provided the mandolinist is equally comfortable with them in all 12-keys. Yes that means Db and F#, too. Our latest entry to the FFcP series tackles this. It's another chopbuster, but you will be so glad you tried this. We don't make it simple, but the investment and the equal-key approach will serve you quite well in the long run.

Have some fun with this: FFcP Pentatonic.

Posted by Ted at May 6, 2007 7:21 PM

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