Unison pentatonic 12-bar riffs are a great way to learn and practice the pentatonic scales. You don’t have to take your performance all the way to concert-ready – just running through the scale-tone strings will improve your understanding and ‘ear’ for pentatonics.
Note: These performances are first takes, not practised or cleaned up to broadcast quality at all. They are here as examples of just having fun with the pentatonic scale, and for you to copy as far as you want!
Pentatonic Diaries 22-07-15 is a unison riff in E pentatonic minor.
Watch the MidiPiano performance.
A twelve-bar uses chords I, IV and V (One, Four and Five) in a key. In E minor these are E, A and B.
So for a pentatonic 12-bar, you will usually have to know three minor pentatonic scales.
PD 22-07-15 plays the riff material in E and A minor pentatonic (I and IV) but for V (B) it deviates from the pattern and uses one of the two chromatic pentatonic tones - here, the sharpened seventh (A sharp).
Here's the twelve-bar sequence in E. (We don't have to put in 'minor' every time once it's been specified.)
The basic PD 20-07-15 riff is this:
T T m3 T m7 T | 5 4 m3 T m7 | T T m3 T m7 T | 5 m7
Work at it until you can hear these tones and then pick out these tones in E and A at the keyboard.
Here's a practice-speed audio for you to play along to.
Just copy the last four bars (B, A, Em ending), where the piece deviates from the pattern.
The hands are playing in unison, with just the odd left hand 'kick' thrown in.
Written music isn't much help developing this style of playing. Keep playing in unison but hearing the kicks as a possibility - they'll come in time.
PD 22-07-15 Revisited is more energetic than the original. Watch the performance.
Notice these developments:
Here is a true unison practice version. Always make sure you can play the ;straight; version before attempting any syncopation.
The syncopation makes playing these riffs on your own more fun, but if you can't manage it right now, play in plain unison (both hands together) to cement your understanding of the minor pentatonic on the twelve-bar chord sequence.
While the riff – ether version – is fresh in your mind, practise ‘seeing’ the tune away from the keyboard both in E and other keys.
In D minor, for example, you would be playing in D, G and A pentatonic minors. Can you hear what PD 20-07-15 would look like in D minor?
Go on from here to More Pentatonic 12-bar Riffs.
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Melody Work and
Playing by Ear