Pentatonic Riff in A Minor
with Two Improvisations

Riffing on the notes of the minor pentatonic scales is quite easy and sounds great if you add some off-the-beat rhythms. Musicarta’s step-by-step rhythmic build-up shows you how.

The main riff

Listen to the riff performance until you know it fairly well.

(This is just the first page of the written music in your Workbook.)

PRAM_perf

Here’s a reminder of the A minor pentatonic scale you’ll be using in this riff.

A minor pentatonic

Play the notes at your keyboard. Sing the scale to yourself from T to T and back:

tonic, minor third, fourth, fifth, minor seventh (going up)

For ear training, look at random pentatonic scale tones in the main octave one at a time see if you can sing them in your head. Then check your guess against the keyboard.

Rhythmic build-up

This riff has a step-by-step rhythmic build-up which will teach you many syncopated mini-riffs in the minor pentatonic scale. If you work through the build-up thoroughly, you will be able to play the main riff and use these fragments and skills over and over in your playing.

The first few practice segments for this riff are written ‘in unison’ – with both hands playing the same notes an octave apart. Feel free to practice just the right hand (most important) to start with.

  PRACTICE SEGMENT 1

Here’s the first segment.

pentatonic

First, notice the instruction to use ‘swing quavers’ – also known as the ‘triplet quaver feel’.

Without trying to get the rhythm right, find the notes and some fingering that will let you play them straight off as a row.

This practice segment deals with anticipation. Anticipation is pulling notes forward off their number beat (1, 2, 3, 4) into the previous quaver slot, to give music a more funky sound.

Watch the segment video on-page without trying to play first to get the idea.

In Practice Segment 1, the first phrase (first two bars, repeated) has no anticipation.

The second time (second two bars), beat 3 gets pulled forward (anticipated) onto beat 2’s ‘and’. Nothing plays on beat 3, so you see (3) in brackets in the counting.

The third time (last two bars), even the second bar beat 1 is anticipated.

The MidiPiano performance repeats each two-bar example. Keep working with it until you can repeat the final version indefinitely.   

  PRACTICE SEGMENT 2

The riff doesn’t actually start on the first beat of the bar. There’s a ‘lead-in’ on beats ‘& 4’. Tap your foot and count out loud “One, two , three and four” as you copy the MidiPiano performance.

pentatonic riff

Sometimes the lead-in anticipates the next bar’s beat 1 as well.

pentatonic

When you can play both of these, practice alternating between the two.

pentatonic
  PRACTICE SEGMENT 3

Now put the two types of lead-in with Segment 1:

pentatonic
  PRACTICE SEGMENT 4

In the actual riff, the bass (left hand) sometimes plays along with the right hand and sometimes just supplies a single note bass beat. On top of that, it sometimes follows the right hand lead-in anticipation, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Listen to the performance video carefully until you can hear the difference between the left hand with anticipation and left hand without.

pentatonic

Practice each type separately.

Only the right hand anticipating:

Both hands anticipating, always:

Go back and practice alternating the types as in the first video in this section.

 Together-left-right analysis

Now that the hands are doing different things, together-left-right analysis (T, L or R written above the music) becomes useful.

Together-left-right analysis gives you the opportunity to think clearly about whether your hands play together, or whether just the left or just the right hand plays.

If you can’t get a practice pattern, look at the TLR analysis only and force yourself to tap out the TLR ‘events’ on your desktop without any rhythm at all.

Then put the rhythm back in.

When you can the together, right, left ‘events’ in order and in rhythm, go back to the keyboard and play it with the notes.

  PRACTICE SEGMENT 5

Practice Segment 5 rehearses the on-the-beat left hand with the right hand playing the riff with anticipation.

pentatonic

Notice how the left hand notes follow the right hand up the scale tones.

The actual riff uses both types of left hand lead-in with the same right hand.

pentatonic
  PRACTICE SEGMENT 6

Here’s a practice segment for the phrase ending.

Notice that the three scale tones used are different, but their shape is the same.

Find the un-syncopated scale-tones first:

Now add the syncopation.

One note drops out of the left hand lead-in.

Beats 1, 2 and 3 are anticipated – only count 4 actually has notes on the beat.

You can hear how much the anticipation adds to the sound.

Here is the ending fitted onto the phrase, played continuously to practice.

You can now play the whole of the first part of the riff, which is a fine stand-alone achievement.

  PRACTICE SEGMENT 7

There is one more section which we haven’t covered in detail – bars 9 to 12. You apply the various anticipating techniques you’ve learned to this long descending line of pentatonic scale tones:

pentatonic

The MidiPiano performance takes you through the build-up. Listen to one section at a time, pause the video and copy.

Performing the riff

If you have mastered all the practice segments in this build-up, playing the riff is just a matter of joining the pieces up.

Here’s the audio file of the performance again – the first page of the music in your workbook.

Now go on to the A Minor Riff Variations module.


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