String Theory is a bi- annual publication intended for guitarists who are interested in all aspects of music theory, specifically as it pertains to the guitar.
Atypical Pentatonic Scales:
The Allman Brothers, Lydian
and Mixolydian Pentatonic scales.
The Allman Brothers, Lydian, and Mixolydian Pentatonic scales; uniquely independent of one another, express three different signature sounds prevalent in rock improvisation.
String Theory: The Lydian Pentatonic Scale
“I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song, then I’m not doing my job properly.”
~ Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck’s career as a guitarist has been a long and storied one. In 1965 he joined the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton; two short years later he would form the Jeff Beck Group featuring a singer by the name of Rod Stewart as well as future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood on bass. Aynsley Dunbar rounded out the band, he would later be ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the 27th greatest drummer of all time. Truth (1968) and Beck-ola (1969), the only two albums the band recorded, quickly established Jeff Beck as a substantial guitarist in his own right. In 1975 Beck released his signature album, the classic “Blow By Blow.” Produced by George Martin (who you may remember as having a hand in the Beatles success) the album remains a quintessential example of progressive rock and fusion, having significantly influenced most serious guitarists in some manner since then. The tune “Scatterbrain” from Blow by Blow showcases Beck’s technical finesse and his solo serves as an example of the way in which he uses pentatonic scales over a modulating modal progression. More specifically it is Beck’s use of D major and E major pentatonic scales over the chords D/C and E/D respectively from the tunes solo progression that demonstrates the use and sound of the Lydian Pentatonic scale.
The Lydian Pentatonic scale
So what exactly is the Lydian Pentatonic scale? Thats a term that I came up with to describe an embellished major pentatonic scale consisting of the following scale degrees.
Rt 2nd 3rd #4 6th 7th
C D E F# A B
Here we have another example, similar to the Allman Brothers Pentatonic scale, of a six note or Hexatonic scale. I still refer to both of these 6 note scales (Allman and Lydian) as pentatonic scales because I think it is easier to think of them as major pentatonic scales with added tensions.
If you study the notes of the C Lydian Pentatonic scale for a minute or two you might notice that the notes form a D major pentatonic scale with an added b7, the note “C”. This would indicate some type of D Dom7 chord scale, a pseudo Mixolydian pentatonic scale that could be used over D9 or D713. However if you treat the note “C” as the root note and tonic, then the scale takes on a completely different affect, it becomes a C Lydian Pentatonic scale and it is played over Cmaj7#11 and Cmaj69#11 chords or as written in the tune Scatterbrain the D/C chord. Essentially a Lydian Pentatonic scale is formed when playing a major pentatonic scale one whole step above the root of a Lydian chord voicing. For example if you were to solo over a Gmaj7#11 chord you could play an A major pentatonic scale whose notes A B C# E F# would produce tensions 9 #11 and 13 (A C# E) and also provide the chords guide tones (B and F#). In order to create a sense of resolution to the Gmaj7#11 chord I also include the root note “G” thus forming a six note scale.
So now that you have a basic understanding of what a Lydian Pentatonic scale is and how it can be applied, let’s take a look at how Jeff beck uses it over the chord changes in Scatterbrain.
The chord progression for the solo to Scatterbrain is as follows:
Solo Chord Progression ~
4/4 Bb-7 /// | ./. | ./. | ./. | B7(#11) /// | ./. | ./. | ./. | D/C /// | ./. | ./. | ./. |
4/4 E/D /// | ./. | ./. | ./. | Gmaj7 /// | ./. | ./. | ./. |
6/8 Bb/Ab – G/F | E/D – A/B ||
Solo Analysis ~
In the first chorus of the tune Beck starts off his solo with some blues licks in Bb minor, a fairly common and standard approach over a Bb-7 chord. Over the B7(#11) chord he plays the notes D# and A, the tritone and 3rd and 7th (guidetones) of the B7 chord. Over the D/C chord Jeff plays D major pentatonic licks treating the D major triad as the home chord of the moment even though the bassist is playing a C predominantly in his bass line thus creating the lydian pentatonic scale sound. When the progression moves up to the E/D chord Jeff plays a fairly common lick initially comprised of an E major pentatonic riff and ending with an E minor blues pentatonic lick. I would conclude that he was approaching both the D/C and E/D chords in a similar fashion and was viewing them as predominantly D and E major pentatonic based. Once the G major chord arrives Jeff plays a G major pentatonic lick followed by a G minor pentatonic riff culminating in the octave unison licks (played from the notes D B G# and E) that follow each of the hybrid chords, Bb/Ab G/F E/D and A/B. It’s interesting to note that those unison notes represent the #11 of each of the first three chords and a perfect 4th of the last chord A/B. In the second chorus of the solo Beck’s approach is for the most part the same as his first chorus. He starts by playing pentatonic licks in Bb minor, makes use of the B7#11 chord guide tones once again and plays D, E and G major pentatonic licks over the D/C, E/D and Gmaj7 chords. He finishes his solo with another G minor riff.
“I was really small when jazz broke through in England and I can still remember sneaking off to the living room to listen to it on the radio – much to my parent’s disapproval.”
~ Jeff Beck
So what may one conclude from the way in which Jeff Beck played over the progression to Scatterbrain? Well for me it shows that he has a great way of interpreting tunes to make them suit his playing style and does not necessarily change his playing to conform to the style of the tune in question. What it also says is that regardless of whether Beck actually knows what he is hearing or playing in theoretical terms, he knows it internally, intuitively and instinctively. Would he be able to explain conceptually which modes he was using or thinking about when he was soloing over those changes? I would guess probably not and I’m betting that he knows more about fixing and hot rodding cars than he knows about music theory per se. However, does it really matter? Some players immerse themselves in studying harmony and constantly work on trying to find the correct notes or the perfect notes, the inside or outside notes. Others and in my opinion someone like Jeff Beck do nothing but play the instrument from a more primal and straight forward point of view. I don’t believe that you always need to know what you are doing so long as the end result is good and Beck’s playing is certainly that. He’s a natural talent and he continues to age well. When I was a student here at Berklee (79-83) the Beck album that had the most influence on me at that time was “There and Back.” I still listen to that album and find new things about it that I had missed. It’s a great listen and in my opinion different and more evolved than Wired or Blow by Blow. For me, the album “There and Back” serves as the epitome of his playing to that point.
His latest album, “Emotion and Commotion” is a great album of guitar music, the kind that you just don’t hear that much of anymore. If you are a fan of Jeff’s and you have yet to listen to the album, what are you waiting for?
The track below is Beck’s take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow from his latest LP Emotion and Commotion. Jeff performs a beautiful rendition as only he can, playing the guitar with both hands, sans pick. Beck’s style is so unique and the guitar playing community is all the better for it. He plays with soul and ears and sticks to what he knows, crafting solos that perpetuate his distinctive style album after album.
Check out the Lydian Pentatonic scale fingerings and experiment with how the scales sound, it’s up to you to develop your own way of using them.
In the diagram below the Yellow roots shown are the root notes of the major pentatonic scale. The Red/Blue notes represent the Lydian chord root. The Lydian Pentatonic scale is achieved when a major pentatonic scale is played starting from a note one whole step higher than the root of the Lydian chord you are soloing over. For example on a Gmaj7#11 chord you would play an A major pentatonic. On a Dmaj7#11 chord an E major pentatonic and so on. The scale produces a root, 3rd and Maj7th as well as tensions 9 #11 and 13. Experiment with it over any major chord type especially Maj7b5 or #11 chords.
View PDF file of The LydianPentatonic scale fingerings here:
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