Which notes in a 7-note scale sound good / bad over certain chords? And why?

Probably for another thread, but I would love to learn which notes of a 7-note scale don’t sound good over a particular chord, and why.

I know that I should be using my ears, and I try, but I’m afraid my brain works better than my ears :slight_smile:

That depends on the chord you’re playing over and the scale you’re using. For example the Major scale contains 7 pentatonic scales. One for every chord in the scale. The best notes are chord tones the not so good notes are the 2 that aren’t in the corresponding scale to the chord.

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Hi Rick,
You’re right…of course you’re right :sunglasses:…and you can say, ‘he asked for it himself’ :grin: :wink:… but now I see a lot of people in my mind doing this :exploding_head::joy:
Or am I wrong in your case John? @jjw1 …hopefully so, of course I have no idea where you are with theory, I just thought it was funny to mention ,It’s really a challenge in the beginning and without all the chords in the key lessons this is quite difficult, I had to read it twice myself,…but that might say also something about my english reading…
I wish you a lot of fun and a nice learning curve,

This is what I’m after. Let’s see if I have understood. Let’s say I’m in G major, playing over a I, IV, V.

The G major scale is G A B C D E F#.

For the I chord (G), I have the G major pentatonic: G A B D E. So the notes to avoid over the G chord are C and F#, right?

For the IV chord (C), the C major pentatonic is: C D E G A, i.e. notes to avoid are F# and B.

Finally, the V chord (D) major pentatonic is: D E F# A B, so the notes to avoid over the D chord are G and C, is that right?

(I’m just focusing on the notes to avoid here, I know that chord tones are usually the ones to target.)

In the simplest terms yes this is a good place to start. The same applies to the minor chords in the scale. Am pentatonic over Am, Bm over Bm and Em over Em or you can play Gm pent over everything. This is just a guide line there are exceptions to every rule. The 2 other note can work as passing note and for tention.

Cool, thanks.

Interesting that the root note of the major scale (G in my example) is to be avoided when the V chord is playing, I don’t think I would have guessed that.

So, what is it about the “bad” notes that makes them bad? Do they clash with some note in the chord? For the I chord, we have G B D in the chord and the notes to be avoided are C and F#. Do these sound bad because they are a semi-tone away from a chord tone (B to C and F# to G)? I noticed that for the IV and V chords, both “bad” notes are a semi-tone away from a chord tone. Am I right in guessing that is the problem with these notes?

They aren’t really bad notes they just don’t resolve. They need to go some where. The best thing to do is make a loop with just the G chord. Then play over it using the G major scale and land the 4th and 7th. How does it sound to you?
The 5 chord wants to resolve to the root so the G being the root will pull your ear home, when soloing you don’t want to go home to some. This is why in a 12 barre blues the 5 chord leads up to the turn around, to take you home.
@Richard_close2u can you put this discussion in its own thread

Hey @stitch, thanks a lot for the tips. I like your simple idea of testing the “bad” notes over a G chord, I will try it. Maybe teach my ears a few things.

Just one more question (and then I will shut up :wink:): you mentioned one could play the Gm pentatonic over the whole I-IV-V progression. I had thought that this (minor pent. over major progression) worked for a blues (or bluesy) piece, but is it also true in general? I wouldn’t want to play Cm pentatonic over “Let It Be” or something major-y like that, would I?

Thanks again for all the help!

Not if you want it to sound like The Beatles but you could and there would be nothing wrong with it. Give it a try, see what you come up with. That’s how we learn asking questions and trying things we’re not suppose to. The fastest way to teach a child is tell them not to do something :grinning:

Great answer, thanks a lot.

By coincidence, I discussed something very similar in a guitar lesson with @Rumil last week.
I set Edgar the following exercise to use …

G Major scale improvisation over a single drone chord
Play a backing track of a single drone chord (G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em) and play some short, improvised lines over the top. Listen for the quality of each note over the chord, and especially listen to the first and last notes. Do they sound good / not good over that chord?
This can tie in with ear training and theory … why do some notes sound better than others?

I hope that helps.



Trust these exercises and use you ears. They will be better than you think they are. Those “bad” notes won’t sound bad but you feel that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It will feel off rather than bad. Do it slowly an interval at a time, work out what is good and was is a little suspect. The good news is, that when you arrive at that place and you find you really do not want to be there, your escape is likely to be just one fret away and either side of you. Experiment with that as well. Play the “bad” intervals on purpose and work out your preferred escape route, Its easy to hit a bum note while improing. Knowing how to recover and where to go next works wonders and folks will think, as Rick stated, you just used a passing note. In time it will become automatic.

Above all have fun while you make these discoveries.




@TheMadman_tobyjenner and @Richard_close2u , thanks guys.


Freddie King was reputed to have said when asked that question (or similar) “there’s no such thing as a bad note if you’re like a good tomcat - good at covering up the dirt”!
For example a bend, slide or a tapped note using the original bum note as a passing note. It has to be instinctive so you really have to be comfortable with improvising.

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Hi ,
There is a lesson ‘stop hitting this awfull note’,
but I don’t know if that’s out of context here,…I would say for everyone follow the blues lessons and you will come across it at the right time, right? and otherwise you now know of its existence,

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Hi @roger_holland , Thanks for the tip. Yes I’ve watched that video a couple of times. It deals with a similar, but slightly different subject: playing the major pentatonic scale over a blues progression. If I remember correctly, Justin warns against playing a single major pent scale over the full progression. The awful note is the C# in the A major pent, does not sit well over the D7 chord, which has a C natural (the b7 of the D7 chord).

My question above was about the full major scale and which notes sound “sour” when improvising over a diatonic chord progression. I expect the tips and exercises given above would be useful in studying major pent scales and blues progressions as well.

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Hoi John,
You are already quite far with your theory,or at least pick it up soon/quick I think…then you probably already have the lesson ‘playing the changes’
seen once…and maybe worth watching again…because with your newly acquired knowledge, this should now be very enlightening,…
And @stitch or someone else, please correct me if I’m going too fast,


Yes I totally get it now,…I was just mixing up some things in my head and got distracted and wanted to say something and go out and explain the other thing you said,…but decided on something else and what seemed logical for a while,but reading again now seems like a strange story what I’ve typed here …(and I may not make it better now :woozy_face:)…

Does not take away that lesson I mention is just great, but a pain in the…head,…,so ignore it for now (or me and look it up :smile: )and focus on what you’re doing right now.

Hi @roger_holland,

Thanks. My problem is that my theory knowledge is kind of ahead of my playing ability. I’ve watched those videos about playing the changes, because I’m curious about the theory. But, my playing is still back on minor pentatonic blues improvising stuff.

(BTW, I don’t try to play the more advanced stuff that I watch, I just want to absorb the theory.)

Hi again John,

From day 1 that I started the theory course (now 2 years ago on the week hours a day), that is also my biggest problem,…with simple licks I now play the changes for a while, but also alone but after a lot of practice every day,…it’s a good thing that you don’t try to play ahead indeed,…because then you (I) really miss things and I notice often that I went way too fast , but i’ll just do it again now,… :sweat_smile:

I think this is the problem with the internet. Back when I leant to play you learnt one thing at a time. Whether it was from a magazine or friend and explored the hell out of it. We spent time listening to music trying to play what we heard. Now information is so easy to come by and we don’t spend time to really absorb what we know.
If you are at the minor pentatonic stage learn everything you can about it and don’t worry about the Major scale. You will be a much better musician for it and will pick up the major Scale/pentatonic faster and understand it better.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?

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