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I learned my pentatonic shapes and I can do some solos with them, not so good yet, but improving. I now learned the major diatonic shapes and I find it harder to solo with them, is it because of the 7th?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Todd Wilcox, Tim H, Shevliaskovic, Doktor Mayhem May 10 at 12:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • I think it’s you, not the scale. Maybe you’re being drawn to a resolution and not resisting? What about it do you find hard? – Todd Wilcox May 10 at 5:37
  • That is not the case for all people. Maybe you like blues (or pentatonic) music more so the ideas come naturally. – ggcg May 10 at 11:25
  • What musical style? In some styles like rock, the diatonic scale simply isn't fundamental to the style. I think avoiding the ^7 in rock is part of the issue. – Michael Curtis May 14 at 20:48
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A simple answer! Pentatonic uses 5 notes - let's for now address the pent. major. Notes 1,2,3 5 6. In key C, C D E G A. Leaving out two other diatonic notes - F and B. Together, those produce a tritone, which is considered dissonant. All the other notes will not clash with each other, in any order - thus are consonant.

Adding the B and F into the mix means there will be some clashes, so notes either side of a played B or F have to be considered more carefully. Using pent notes, anything goes - literally.

There's also the problem of more choice of notes to play, so it gets more difficult to mak up palatable lines of music. Imagine using all 12 notes - even more problematic. But by no means impossible, and gets used a lot.

Consider the minor pent., Am pent for example - using A C D E G. Again, straightforward, with no dissonance to be heard. That's why so many guitarists use it so often - that, and the fact that the notes are made from a nice pattern (in one shape!). Again, add in the other two diatonics - again B and F, and the same thing as above will happen.

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    I think that if the problem is narrowed down to individual clashes between pairs of notes, without saying anything about the bigger harmonic turns and chord changes, it doesn't provide a guitarist enough perspective to move towards better soloing. Whatever note you play, it contributes something to the harmonic story, so you better know the structural components of harmony, and two-note combinations don't work well as structural building blocks at least in functional harmony. Chords do. YMMV of course. Is it necessary to have a "just slightly less random playing" phase before learning chords? – piiperi May 10 at 8:41
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    @piiperi - OP asks why it's harder. All I did was give reasons, rather than add a lot more (useful) information on how to go forward, as you did. Learning chords? Should b going in parallel with soloing. – Tim May 10 at 11:46
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    I don't think the "tritone-induced dissonance makes your solo sound bad" claim explains it very well. The F-B tritone is in a way the essence of the dominant of C major, and what could be more simplistically beautiful than a G7 followed by C. IMO the problem guitarists have is more like, they can't see chord tones on the fretboard and so they poke around implying random chord changes, throwing the harmony around chaotically. If you leave out the essence of the dominant, then at least you don't suggest a dominant in the wrong place. Stay neutral, don't take sides, stick to pentatonics... ;) – piiperi May 10 at 13:45
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    Spot on! The pentatonic scale is a subset of the keys of a quarter of the circle of fifths, for example the C pentatonic scale would also fit in G and F, but this same flexibility is what could make it sound like you are playing "over" rather than inside the changes. Because the diatonic tritone is also what defines a specific key learning to play diatonic scales may be more challenging, but will leave the listener with the impression that you are articulating the changes more effectively. – Nick G May 10 at 14:24
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    @piiperi - it's not the tritone itself that I tried to explain was the problem. It was the fact that either note causes problems for players who are used to pents. Just as the OP states! I'm with you on G7>C, where F and B do work well together, and once one knows how to use the F and B - separately or together. Without inclusion of those two notes, there's far less 'direction' in one's playing. – Tim May 10 at 14:31
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Edit: my answer was based on the assumption that the OP was playing on a major/minor tonal pop song (whatever the correct classification might be), and soloing felt OK as long as he kept using a pentatonic scale, and introducing the two additional notes IV and VII created clashes with the backing track's harmony. But after a few rounds of comments it turns out he was playing on top of a blues track, for which using a "standing" pentatonic scale is probably a better fit, not even trying to sway to subdominant and dominant sides together with the changes of the harmony. In a blues the seventh scale degree should probably even be a minor seventh - which the OP suggested.

I think putting this on hold as "primarily opinion based" is nonsense. How could a beginning guitarist possibly be able to explain and classify these things "correctly". Saying that adding the extra notes makes soloing harder is a pretty good explanation.


It's more difficult to play good-sounding solos using a larger set of notes, because melody notes imply possible harmonic changes, and the more notes you have at your disposal, the more harmonic changes you can be implying. If you don't know what chords you're implying with your solo notes, you're doing it randomly, basically you're rolling dice, and the more possible numbers you have in your dice, the more likely it is to get something that doesn't make sense together with the backing chords.

Solo notes played on strong beats make a stronger harmonic impact than notes played on weaker beats, or notes in between beats. What's a strong beat? It depends on what the backing rhythm is and how you emphasize things, but for a simple rock beat let's assume that especially the ones and threes are strong: ONE two THREE four ONE two THREE four. Or with a slower tempo, ONE and Two and THREE and Four and ... The "ands" would be even weaker.

Try this: for the chord progression you're playing over, find out the chord tones i.e. the notes belonging to each chord, and write them down on the chord symbols.

For example, if the song is in A minor / C major and the backing chords are: Am - G - Dm - Dm - G - F - Dm - E7 (repeat), you would write out the progression like this:

  • Am : A C E
  • G : G B D
  • Dm : D F A
  • Dm : D F A
  • G : G B D
  • F : F A C
  • Dm : D F A
  • E7 : E G# B D

Then in your solo, make sure that on every strong beat you play one of the chord tones, and elsewhere you're free to play the other notes of the scale as well. At first make it just beats one and three. How does this feel - does it feel any easier to solo using more notes now? By the way, on the E7 chord there's a G# note that's not even among the diatonic (white keys) scale notes of C D E F G A B. When you play it over the E7 chord, it sounds fine. But if you try to play it anywhere else randomly, it will be much less likely to make sense.

So, to develop your solo playing, start building a sense of what the chord tones are at all times. As an exercise, play just the song's chords as arpeggios.

Another exercise. The "third" of each chord, i.e. the middle note in the "root position" notes I listed above, is particularly important. Try this: on the one beat always play the third i.e. the middle note, highlighted in bold here:

  • Am : A C E
  • G : G B D
  • Dm : D F A
  • Dm : D F A
  • G : G B D
  • F : F A C
  • Dm : D F A
  • E7 : E G# B D

Now you can even leave out the backing track, because the listener can pretty nicely figure out what the chord progression is just by listening to your single-note solo. (Well, play the root notes every now and then too.)

You might ask, why can I play the pentatonic scale e.g. minor pentatonic A C D E G randomly without knowing what I'm doing harmonically? That's because that minor pentatonic scale lacks the F and B notes that can quite strongly imply certain harmonic turns, with less possibility to get interpreted as neutral parts of all the other chords there might be, even if played randomly. Or one could say that the pentatonic scale adds a neutral "modal" sounding layer on "functional" backing chords. Like blood type O can be given to type A, B and AB patients without knowing the recipient's blood type. ;) But if your solo is adding different and non-agreeing functional harmony to the backing chords' functional harmony, they will most probably clash, particularly if you don't even know what chords you're implying. If that theory talk feels hard, don't care about it and just play the exercises.

  • I appreciate you taking the time to go to such length to help me understand the issue – freman1952 May 11 at 13:14
  • @freman1952 No problem. Did you try the exercises? It would be very interesting to see if it helps you gain insight into what's happening with the scales and notes and harmony. Too bad the question was put on hold as "primarily opinion-based", because I think you've just encountered something that many beginning guitar players bump into, and the question wasn't that badly worded. Actually I don't think it's opinion-based at all, I think it's a genuine and common problem that can be solved, but I don't know how to change the question to pass the legal technicalities. – piiperi May 11 at 20:03
  • not yet, I printed the answer and I will work on the idea. I will do it on a 12 bar blues on Am and report back – freman1952 May 13 at 0:58
  • @freman1952: Traditional blues is not the most natural fit for this approach, because in blues style soloing you're kind of supposed to layer pentatonic or blues stuff agains the backing chords. Try it with pop songs that have strong melodies and chord progressions. Was it with blues where you had the difficulty with the diatonic scale? – piiperi May 13 at 6:04
  • yes, I was trying it with a blues backing track, I will look fort a rock backing track to try your idea – freman1952 May 14 at 14:21

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