The scales we’ve looked at so far in this column, major and minor, have all been made up of seven notes. However, the two scales we are looking at this month have fewer notes: the minor pentatonic (five) and the blues scale (six notes).
The minor pentatonic is so called because of its opening minor interval and the fact that it contains just five notes (pente means five in Greek). There is a major equivalent of this scale, which I highly suggest investigating as part of your future practice regime. The minor pentatonic has the scale construction of root note, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, and minor 7th. In my diagrams, I have included the octave, to show where the pattern begins again. Figure 1 shows an F-minor pentatonic.Try shifting the shape around the bass neck when you’re comfortable with its fingering.
This scale is a great starting block for building bass-lines centred around one chord, as well as being a cool foundation for some soloing. The sound, to me at least, has an open quality to it. Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’, from the album Hotter Than July uses a C-minor pentatonic in its unison instrumental riff.
Our second scale for this lesson is the blues scale, which conveniently utilises the same notes as the minor pentatonic with the addition of a raised 4th (or flattened 5th) degree. This new note is where the ‘blues’ quality comes from. As you play up and down the scale, you’ll hopefully hear the resolution of playing between this new note and its next-door neighbours.
Not surprisingly, this scale works really well over a blues progression. Despite having a minor 3rd interval, this scale can be used to solo over both minor and dominant (major with a flattened 7th) chords. Try playing both scales up and down the bass neck and not always in note order: for example, you could play the root and then jump to the minor 7th and work your way back down the scale.
A great example of the blues and pentatonic scales in operation can be found in ‘The Crunch’ by Shane Beales, available on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube. Shane has kindly given us permission to use this song as an example, so have a look at figure 3, which is a transcription of the chorus riff that the bass plays starting at chorus two. The line jumps from the root to the octave, followed by the minor 7th and then straight to the flat 5th. The four semi-quavers are a straightforward, ascending minor pentatonic scale.
Some of my favourite bass-lines essentially built around the blues scale are ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ by Cream and ‘Bad’ by Michael Jackson. Have a listen to the famous bass-lines in ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ by Robben Ford and ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder. Both are fine examples of the minor pentatonic. The ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ riff is also a minor pentatonic line: check out both Bob Marley and Eric Clapton’s versions.