Using a pentatonic scale for improvization (soloing)

I am learning to play music on a three string cigar box guitar tuned to an open E (1 5 1). I typically play based on the 12 bar blues, I IV, V, (E, A, B in my case). I have read the article on 12 bar blues and am trying to understand the guidance regarding improvization:

"Stage one is the most basic way to improvise over a blues progression; playing a straight minor pentatonic scale over the whole thing. As long as you stick with that scale pretty much everything should sound good, "

At a base level, I understand this, and I even understand why it works, almost. If I am playing in the Key of E, which minor pentatonic scale am I using to improvise? Is it the relative minor from the circle of fifths? For E this would be C#m. This doesn't seem right to me as I can see no connection between the C#m pentatonic scale and the key of E.

I'm sure it is a simple concept I am missing here or maybe I have over analysed everything and I'm completely lost. My goal is to figure out what scale to use to improvise with my usual E,A,B progression. From there I hope to be able to figure it out for other keys on my own.

3 Answers


update: I have realized that E and C#m pentatonic scales use the same notes as expected, just sometimes use the other names (flats instead of sharps). One mystery solved.

Now the other. Reading and watching about pentatonic scales seems to indicate that if playing in E (major), it is the E minor pentatonic scale which goes with that key. Is this right? Now that I look at the notes in that scale, it corresponds to the chords in an E progression (E,A,B). So how does this line up? I'm playing in the key of E, but it is the minor pentatonic scale which matches up with that key for improvisation. Or is it because of the progression of i, IV, V in E?

I think I am close to making the connection between all these things but just need a nudge to see the bigger picture.

Sep 02, 2015

another update:

I used GarageBand to play a chord progression on guitar. I then made a new track and switched into note mode. There is an option to select several different scales, also you can set the key for the song. Played with several scales over a 12 bar blues in E. So, I have a practical answer. Any "in key" scale seems to work. They set different tones, and create different melody possibilities.

Still don't have the answer for why and how the different scales work with a chord progression but thank goodness for Garage Band. I was able to set up the exact situation regardless of my lack of skill and find an experimental answer.

Sep 03, 2015

If your Root is E while playing minor pentatonic scale, you'll play an Em pentatonic scale and its relative major which is G will also have same notes if you play G mahor pentatonic. So Em pentatonic and Gmaj pentatonic both are the same

Apr 29, 2016

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