Pentatonic Chord Voicings
Hey everyone! It's time for a new lesson in chord voicing. For this lesson we are going to stay with the focus on pentatonic scales, but rather than seeing them as an actual scale we are going to create chords. Just like major and minor scales yield chords by stacking diatonic 3rds this process will be similar. Traditional harmony uses the following intervals to create triads: M3rd+m3d= Maj triad, m3rd+M3rd = min triad. There are three different formulas for pentatonic chords using the following intervals: M2+P5, m3rd+P5, m3rd+m6th. Note as a stand alone that I didn't identify these "chord formulas" as major or minor. The reason for this is that they are all related to a shared root and actually derived from the pentatonic shape more than the intervals that are yielded. Hopefully, this will make more sense as we move forward.
Let's work with Box #1 of the pentatonic scale. We will use E minor pentatonic for all examples.
In order to visualize the process we will use the top notes of the box pattern as the "assumed" root. Only to mean it is the bottom note of the stack. This will present four possible chord voices from the original box pattern. If you are thinking to yourself that there should be five different voices, you are correct. However, you will see as we move forward that each box pattern (1-5) will reveal only four of the five chord voices. Ex. 2 will show the construction of these chords.
If you were to look at all of the chords placed back into the original box shape, this is what you would see. I have alternated the chord colors in order to identify them once combined.
This process can be done for each of the five boxes as I have mentioned previously. By doing so you will reveal the fifth chord shape not seen in the above diagram. For the remaining examples of this lesson we will focus on using these chords vertically up the fretboard. Our examples will focus on the string set 3-2-1. I will use the same type of color scheme for the following examples.
Ex. 4 shows the chords voices using string set 3-2-1 vertically on the fretboard.
If you look closely you should see a rather interesting visual. Much like symmetrical sequences I have mentioned in previous lessons for other fretboard organization, this process has a symmetrical reveal in itself. Notice that the first two "shapes" are repeated identically in the 3rd and 4th chords. The fifth chord is what I refer to as the "Odd Man Out" chord. See Ex. 5.
Here is the cool part of the reveal in order to easily apply to other keys and string sets. Chords 1 and 3 (Red), have the root and 5th of the minor chord from which the pentatonic scale is derived. In this case E-7. That means that any -7 chord resulting in a pentatonic scale, which they all do, will use the same shape with the root and 5th in the lowest position. The 2nd and 4th chords (Blue), have the b7 and b3rd as the lowest note position. They too share the exact same shape regardless of key. The fifth chord (Yellow) is simply the "Odd Man Out". This chord has a note (11th) that is not a primary note of the original -7 chord, as the lowest note position. To me, this was very valuable information in organizing my fretboard. This means if I can find the root and 3rd of the original pentatonic scale or original -7 chord, depending how you think best, then I have four out of five chords instantly.
Let's get beyond shapes though and apply this to music. These types of voices lend themselves to being very open sounding. I like to think of the sounds of guitarists such as Eric Johnson and Allan Holdsworth. If you play through the following examples you should be able to hear exactly what I mean. In each of the examples the five chords are played over a different root. The roots are derived from the key of C major in this excerpt. Each major key contains 3 pentatonic scales (major/minor). Thinking based on the minor version of each scale we will develop chord voicings. The minor pentatonic scales are built from each of the three minor chords of a given key, the II-7, III-7, VI-7. Using tension availability rules we can identify pentatonic chord voicings that are applicable to each of the areas of tonic, subdominant and dominant regions.
Tension availability basic guidelines:
1) tensions must be a 9th above the tone it is replacing. the exception is b9 is available for dominant chords.
2) Tension cannot create a tritone with itself and the 3rd or the 7th of the chord.
we will start with the pentatonic based on the III-7 in c major (E minor pentatonic).
In the lessons to follow we will explore more voicing options and uses for pentatonics. For now, find the voicings for the remaining four pentatonic boxes and string sets. This can be a great study to build fretboard knowledge and new sounds for traditional chord progressions. This is only the tip of the iceberg!
As always, make practice fun, use a metronome or some type of backing track. Until next time...
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