String Theory by Robin Stone (originally published in the Fall 2009 edition of OP)

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.

Chapter Two
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 Allman Brothers Pentatonic Scale

“Theres a lot of different forms of communication, but music is absolutely the purest one, man. You can’t hurt anybody with music. You can maybe offend somebody with songs and words, but you can’t offend anybody with music-it’s just all good. There’s nothing at all that could ever be bad about music, about playing it. It’s a wonderful thing. A grace.”
-Duane Allman

The Allman Brothers Band, best known for their jazz infused blues/rock has long been at the forefront of the southern rock and jam band genres. The original band line-up of Duane Allman, Dickie Betts guitar, Berry Oakley bass, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe Johanson drums and Greg Allman Hammond B-3, were together for only two short years before Duane Allmans untimely death on October 29th 1971, he was only 24 years old. From 1969-1971 the band had recorded four albums including what many consider to be one of the finest live recordings ever “The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East” produced by Tom Dowd. The “Brothers” catalog is impressive in its longevity. Their distinctive and original interpretation of the blending of southern blues and jazz created a timelessness to their sound. One aspect of their signature sound is what I like to call  the “Allman Brothers Pentatonic scale.” A six note scale consisting of the major pentatonic with an added perfect fourth scale degree. Technically a Hexatonic (6-note) scale, the Allman Brothers Pentatonic scale contains the following scale degrees:

Root, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th
The addition of the perfect fourth degree to the basic 5 note major pentatonic scale adds a unique color that helps to distinguish some of the Allman Brothers best known tunes such as Blue Sky, Jessica and Melissa.

Atypical Pentatonic Scales: The Allman Brothers Pentatonic

In the diagram below the red/blue roots shown are the root notes of the major pentatonic scale. The orange notes represent the perfect 4th degree. Experiment with this scale and listen to the Allman Brothers usage of it. If you are into jamming and a handful of your tunes are in a major key, whether its Ionian or Mixolydian (Lydian of course wouldn’t work because of the #4) then work on incorporating the Allman Brothers pentatonic scale sound into your playing vocabulary. The simple addition of the perfect 4th creates many new possibilities within an established harmonic framework. So explore, experiment and make good music with the Allman Brothers pentatonic scale.
In the next edition of String Theory we will take a look at another one of my favorite pentatonic scales, The Lydian Pentatonic scale.

View PDF file of The Allman Brothers Pentatonic scale fingerings here: