Simple Chord Substitutions Minor-Major Parallel

You are working on a song and strumming away. Lets say C goes to F goes to A min goes to G. While it all sounds good, at the same time it sounds a bit familiar. It feels like you are playing a thousand other songs, yet you are trying to create something new. How can you shake it up a bit? How can you find that chord progression -and eventually song – that sounds like it is your own? One way forward is to use chord extensions and chord substitutions. Extending a few chords or substituting them for something else may just be your way forward to lift up your chord progression or come up with new melodic ideas. Particularly with so called diatonic extensions or substitutions you can subtly change the mood or sound of those same old chord progressions while leaving in tact the basic movement of the song. In this lesson we’ll try some simple chord extensions and substitutions.

Chord Substitutions: Minor Major Parallel Chords

Sometimes the atmosphere of a piece can be changed dramatically through the use of minor and major parallels. What I mean here is that a major chord could potentially be replaced by its minor parallel (three frets down) and any minor chord by its major parallel (three frets up). Amazing new colors can be made by just this one simple idea.

As an example: here is the first part of the melody of a song called “Ten Penny Bit”.








The chords to go with this melody are in its simplest form

||:  Amin  | Emin  | Amin |   D     |  Amin  | Emin | Amin Emin | Emin Amin :||


Now we could change this using the minor an major parallel chords for each chord.

  • Amin –> C
  • Emin –> G
  • D –> Bmin

This would leave us with the following chord progression

||:  C  |  G  |  C  |  Bmin |   C   |  G   |  C   G   | G   C  :||

Try it out and you will hear that the melody get a different character.

Now we could combine the two options and you would get something like this:

||:  Amin C | G Emin | Amin  C  | Bmin D  | C  Amin | G Emin | Amin Emin | G  Amin  :||


I have found this simple tool very helpful in songwriting and arranging (especially solo acoustic/ electric) so go and have some fun with this.


Using the Lydian Mode

38954_422793518215_501308215_4610668_3753202_nSometimes we stumble upon the Maj7#11 chord in our musical ventures.

The maj7#11 chord is sometimes referred to as the Lydian chord associated with the fourth step in a harmonized major scale, at which we find the Lydian mode (major scale with raised 4th).

In this lesson we will look at 3 possible approaches, which will also work to color up a normal major triad,  maj7 chords, 6 chords, maj7 9, 6/9 chords or
majo 7/13 chords.

The raised fourth gives the mode an airy sound. Some players that use this as one of their favored scales are: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Scott Henderson and John Scofield and Albert Lee. The scale is commonly applied by many jazz guitar players and modern rockers alike.

Lydian mode

The lydian mode to which the maj7#11 chord refers is the fourth mode of the major scale. So an F maj7#11 is associated with the F Lydian mode which is the C major scale but started on the fourth note. While some people prefer to learn and use the Lydian mode, I teach my students to play the major scales they already know and shift the tonal center/ root to F.

Below is an example of the E lydian mode played in the VI position on the guitar. Effectively however you can translate that back to the B major scale which has the E (lydian mode) on the fourth step. (E.g. B major scale over E).

Lydian 001

Below is a lick using the E Lydian (read B major scale) in the position VI.

Lydian 002

In one of the lessons we discussed the G major scale. In this lesson we found the lick the following G major lick.

Trying shifting this lick up four positions and play it over a E chord.

Pentatonic Scales

Most guitar players start their lead guitar playing and improvisation using the minor pentatonic scale. In this case the pentatonic approach offers some additional options where it comes to playing extended sequences 0r when you enjoy a more layered approach.

First of is the pentatonic scale half a step below the root of the chord. So of we go for E, that would make it the  D# minor pentatonic which has the notes D#, F#, G#, A#, C#. When we set off these notes against an E major chord the pentatonic scale provides us with the maj 7, 9, 3, #11 and 6/13.

Lydian 003

Why I like using pentatonic scales is because they lead easier into motive type of approaches with less of a risk of sounding like you a racing up and down a scale.

While the D# minor pentatonic scale is the preferred one for outlining the Lydian mode, the (E major) or C#minor pentatonic scale allows for outlining the major triad and 6 chord. The B major (or G# minor pentatonic scale) is another way of outlining the chord and is closest related to the underlying B major scale.

Here a D# minor pentatonic lick over E maj7

Lydian 004

Shifting around triads

Sometimes you will find the lydian chord represented as a slash chord.
The E maj7 may sometimes be written down as a F#/E (read F# with an E in the bass or F# over E root).

Similar as to indicated for the use of pentatonic scales, you could move around these two triads as arpeggios and it will create some nice lead lines.

Lydian 005

To add more possibilities you could opt to also include the two minor parallel triads of E and F#, being C#minor and D# minor.

Have fun and try out some of your general major licks as lydian licks by changing the underlying chord. So if you have some licks in C major, try what happens if you play these over an F chord, or some licks in G major over a C chord Likewise, if you have some A natural minor scale licks, play them over F, E natural minor scale licks over C etc.  You’ll be amazed how these same old licks get a new life when applied in a different context.

Have fun.

Minor Pentatonics, Autumn Leaves

Recently I have been working with a student on using your pentatonic scales for jazz improvisation purposes. I have found them useful especially because of the notes left out. Just for the record, I do not make a difference between minor and major pentatonics in that as far as I can see it they are the same, be it not that many guitarists started out their lead guitar playing with the minor pentatonic scale and blues scale. So when I speak of using the G#min pentatonic scale over B7 others will speak of the B major pentatonic scale which is the same only it starts on the B (the second not of the G# minor pentatonic scale). I like to keep things simple.

The first  eight bars of Autumn Leaves are:

|| Am7 | D7 | G maj7 | C maj7 |

| Fm7b5 | B7 | Em | Em E7 ||

Below is an example of how you can use the minor pentatonic and blues scale over the chord progression set out previously. Please be aware that this is an example and as far as I am concerned it is one of the many ways in which you can improvise over the song.


Now lets see what is happening here:

Bar 1: A min pent (V) goes to B min pentatonic (VII) which creates a nice sound adding the 9 and 13 besides that it moves right into the next bar (D7) in which we will play C min pentatonic

Bar 2: C minor pentatonic (VIII) even though it has the 11 in there, the emphasis is primarily focussed on the b9 and the b13, Mist of all it sets up to chromatically resolve into the B minor pentatonic that can be used over the G maj7 chord

Bar 3: Using the B minor pentatonic this creates a nicely grounded flavor while at the same time adding a 9 and 13 in your lines.

Bar 4: I used a pattern in sixteenth notes in E blues scale (VII) and repeated the pattern in pos II which would make that the B blues scale. The f# creates the airiness associated with the lydian scale. By repeating the same pattern yuou also create that sort of modern sound.

Bar 5: again a repeated pattern using F# blues scale (II) and A blues scale (V) all notes, even though their weird signature (sorry it was my power tab) are all closely related to the chord

Bar 6: Over the B7 I played a G# blues (IV) scale and a F blues scale (I) but avoiding the Bb note although it would work as a chromatic note to b, and thus I slid very nicely back into a Bar 7 -8 E blues scale to play over the E minor (open). The last two notes are the 3 and 7 of an E7.

I also suggest you read this lesson >>> which deals with the same subject in general terms. Or find the chord melody arrangement (beginner level) of the song here >>>

Free Lesson: Spice it up with your minor pentatonic scale

If there is one thing that is clear it seems to me that almost all guitar players interested in lead guitar use the minor pentatonic scale. There are others that will point out that they also use the major pentatonic scale but for now I will go from the premise that any major pentatonic scale will have its minor replacement, similar to what happens in modes.

As an example: some people will use the C major pentatonic scale for playing on either a C chord, C maj7  chord or a C7 chord.

When we look at the C major pentatonic scale we see it has the following notes: C D E G A.
When you start on the A note however, it will make A C D E G.

There is a reason however why I choose to approach this from the minor pentatonic perspective throughout, and that is because a.) Many guitar players start with this scale when experimenting with their blues solos and because it is so closely related to the other well used scale: the blues scale.

As beginning guitar players we will all have gone through licks like this:

Now in the following examples I have used different pentatonic scales to play over the chord sequence D min7 – G7 -Cmaj7 which is for those with a but of a theoretical background a II – V – I chord progression. In its most basic form we would be using the following minor pentatonic scales:

D minor 7 —>  D minor pentatonic scale

G7 —> E minor pentatonic scale / G blues scale or G minor pentatonic scale

C maj7 —> A minor pentatonic scale

You will find that when you play these scales over thew chord progression it sounds a bit dull.

Personally what I find attractive about the minor pentatonic scales is that they are useful to create patterns or certain repeatable fragments. If we combine that given with the idea that we may be able to use different minor pentatonic scales on different chords all of a sudden a wide array of possibilities opens up to spice up your solos. By the way I could go into all kinds of theory here but I will just say I usually use the minor pentatonic and blues scales as interchangeable. (the notes in between brackets are the additional note to the pentatonic scale to make it into a blues scale.  I am aware that more options exist but these give you a nice start.

D minor 7 (D F A C)

  • D minor pentatonic: D F G (G#/Ab) A C
  • E minor pentatonic E G A (A#/Bb) B D
    The B in this scale  makes for a nice emphasis of the dorian character of the chord (IIm7 chord) while the blue note  (Bb) provides for a nice natural minor sound.
  • A minor pentatonic A C D (D#/Eb) E G.

G7 (G B D F)

  • E minor pentatonic: E G A (Bb) B D
  • F minor pentatonic: F Ab Bb C (C#/Db) Eb
  • G minor pentatonic: G Bb C (C#/Db) D F
  • Bb minor pentatonic: Bb Db Eb (E) F Ab

C maj7 (C E G B)

  • A minor pentatonic: A C D (D#/Eb) E G
  • B minor pentatonic: B D E (F) F# A this scale produces a lydian airy kind of sound
  • E minor pentatonic: E G A (A#/Bb) B

Some Examples

Example 1

In this example only the A minor pentatonic and Bb minor pentatonic scale were used to create chromatic tension and and at the same time resolution. The A minor pentatonic over the C maj7 chord creates a 6 or 13 sound.

Example 2

I this second example we move up position by position and end up in the lydian sounding b minor pentatonic over the C maj7 chord.
The F# note suggests a Cmaj7 #11 chord.

Example 3

In this third example we have an gone from D minor pentatonic to E and F minor pentatonic so we would at least have the B note in the G7 chord. Try to avoid over emphasis of the C note in the F minor pentatonic as against G that suggest a sus chord, while at the same time chromoatically it sounds nice and we resolve this back to E minor pentatonic goes to B minor pentatonic goes to A minor pentatonic.

Cycling around for practice

I you would like to come up with other ideas and practice it us actually nice if you have a cycle that you can let go on continuously. That can be one by playing ||       Dmin7     |      G7     |      Cmaj7     |       A7 ||

Below I will list the different pentatonic scales you could use in a format that makes it easier to see how you can create nice patterns with them.

I guess you can see for yourself now that there are some good options to connect different minor pentatonic scales and keep on going round and round. Have fun!