How Play The Pentatonic Scale Over A Backing Track

by Richard Freeman

One of the most fun ways to improve your scale knowledge, improvisation techniques and phrasing ideas is by practicing over a backing track. With all of the technology around today, it’s easy to find tracks that are enjoyable to play over that sound really awesome! In this article I will show you how to take a Pentatonic Scale and apply it over a backing track in a few different ways. By doing this, you will begin to break out of the box patterns, and you will also start to learn how to develop your own sound and phrasing techniques.

First let’s make sure we know the Pentatonic Scale Modes 1 & 2:

Mode 1

Mode 2

After memorizing both of the modes above, our next step is going to be finding a backing track.

  1. Both of the modes above are in the key of “A minor” or “C major”. I won’t go into specifics today about why, but for the purpose of finding backing tracks to practice over, you will need to go to YouTube and type in “Am Backing Tracks in (pop/rock/blues/jazz/etc)”. Choose any genre you like to listen to.
    • You could also search for “C Major Backing Tracks in (pop/rock/blues/jazz/etc)”
    • Once the results appear, test out a few of the tracks until you find one that you enjoy.
  2. Begin first by just playing the scales over the tracks. You should hear that they sound very good over the tracks.
  3. Once you feel comfortable playing the scales over the tracks, it’s time to try and get a little creative with the Pentatonic Modes 1 & 2. Below is a phrase for you to try out


Sounds pretty cool right? What is happening in the phrase above is we are combining modes 1 & 2 in order to create a melodic phrase. This can be done in many different ways, but I suggest/recommend starting by using no more than 4-6 note phrases. Both of the phrases above use 6 notes and repeat. Many beginning improvisors make the mistake of “playing too many notes” or in other words “too many different notes”. If you want to get really solid at improvising, you need to approach it by taking small chunks of scales/modes and learning how to do many things with little amounts of notes.

When starting to play over backing tracks, be sure that you move away from just “playing the scales/mode shapes”. Anytime I have a student who does this, they usually say “I just sound like I’m playing scales, not improvising”. If you desire to break out of just playing patterns, then you will need to think outside the box, and try to connect these patterns in different ways. I’ll leave you with another example of connecting Pentatonic Modes 1 & 2:




About the author: Richard Freeman is a Guitar Music School owner with a passion for educating his students. He has written several guitar playing/practicing articles that have been published all over the US and other countries. If you or someone you know are interested in taking guitar lessons in Miami, FL, contact Richard today!

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