Three E Minor Pentatonic Riffs
- Riff One -

The Three E Minor Pentatonic Riffs use the simple minor pentatonic scale and driving rhythms to build three powerful blues piano solos.

Rhythm is often what makes quite simple music interesting. The three riffs in the series have rhythmic build-up material to help you master the rhythms that drive the pieces along and understand how they are written down.

The three riffs are closely related melodically, harmonically and rhythmically – there is variation on a common keyboard texture. You could easily find yourself discovering your own variations.

Here's a MMYT video of a free performance of Riff One. It has variations on the actual music given - repeated sections, a couple of added harmony notes and an extended ending.

The 'triplet feel'

All three of E minor pentatonic riffs in this module are played with the triplet or ‘swing quaver’ feel.

Often, to keep the music looking relatively simple, music in swing quavers rhythm is written in ‘straight’ or even quavers, with the triplet or swing quaver or ‘dotted' feel indicated in the music by the little expression on the right, which you see above the start of the riff music.

English-speakers might know the nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Repeating “Humpty Dumpty, Humpty Dumpty…” demonstrates the triplet or swing quaver rhythm perfectly.

Then you count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” to the “Humpty Dumpty” rhythm.

This gives you the count you need to play music with the swing quaver/triplet feel sign properly.

The Humpty Dumpty table above represents the rhythm spacing accurately. The “and” count (&) is closer to the count that follows than to its own number.

Rhythmic build-up – Riff One

: Pent_3_Riffs_1_bldp

 Bar 1

This whole riff is built on the swing quavers shown in the first bar of the build music..

The notes are all E’s. The left hand plays E’s with the little finger (LH5) and thumb (LH1). The left hand notes are in the bass clef. The right hand plays the next E up with the third finger (RH3). Right hand notes are in the treble clef.

The order the hands play is L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R, as shown in this Together-left-right ‘table of events’:

 Bar 2

The rhythm is just the same but the left hand holds its notes for a little longer. The little finger 5 holds down for the whole bar and the thumb 1 for as long as it can while still repeating its note.

  Bar 3

The rhythm and notes are exactly the same as in bar 2 but the beaming is broken, so the note stems are different. Use the Together-left-right analysis and the counting (on Humpty Dumpty rhythm)  to help you. It sounds exactly the same as the previous bar – it only looks different.

  Bar 4

This is the first bar of the actual music. There is only one new note in Bar 4 – a D on the first beat, giving a T for together –  and the last RH quaver has gone down to B. The table of events now looks like this:

This bar is the rhythmic pattern for the whole piece, so play it as slowly as you need to, to be sure you are playing the right things together in the right order. The speed can wait until the right things are happening in the right order. Just on its own, this is a great jamming riff or solo backing.

Playing Riff One

Once you can play the basic texture, all you have to do is ‘apply’ it to the notes of the riff. For the right hand, you can read the music, play it by ear, copy the MidiPiano performances or follow the pentatonic scale-tone mark-up on the lead sheet on the page after the full music. The left hand simply moves according to the chord symbol above the music.

Don’t be in a hurry to stop practicing. Be prepared to go through the build-up a couple of times. Repeat every two bars over and over. The jumps between positions will need rehearsing.

Use the MS in your workbook.

A lead sheet version

Use the MS in your workbook. The thumbnail on the right is for reference only.

All good pop musicians can play from lead sheets, and in this piece, it’s easy enough to put the left hand ‘on automatic’ – the left hand only plays the note in the chord symbol above the music, in the pattern you have learned.

On the lead sheet, the scale-tones are counted in E minor shorthand throughout – it doesn’t change according to the chords in the chord symbols. In simple pentatonic music, the melody is often ‘in one key’ while the chords underneath the melody can be quite varied.

Play the riff from the lead sheet. If you can, find the notes of the melody according to the pentatonic shorthand – T, m3, 4, 5, m7, even if you read well. This will help you break from the notes, and free your creativity.



The pentatonic scale-tone mark up is especially useful if you want to try transposing the riff. You could play the riff in A minor and still be on all white keys. The chord symbols would be Am, Dm, F and Em – which also gives you your left hand notes.

You can get MidiPiano to transpose for you. Load up the MIDI file and set the 'key' to -7 (minus seven) or 5 (plus five). Either will give you a version in A minor, one lower and one higher than the E minor original.

Listen a few times until your 'ear' is in the new key, then play along using the pentatonic shorthand.

Thanks for studying with MUSICARTA!
- Come again soon! -


The Pentatonic Scales
Practice Patterns
Melody Work and
Playing by Ear
Pentatonic Riffs
and Diaries -
Minor Pentatonic
Major Pentatonic
Chromatic Minor
Chromatic Major
Pre-video Pages
Pentatonics videos

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