Jazz Guitar Pentatonics – Part 5 – Dominants, Altered Dominants and Half-Diminished Chords

And finally, here’s what we saved for dessert: jazz guitar pentatonics applications on dominant chords, half-diminished (minor 7 flat 5) chords and on altered dominant chords…

… in fact, this is simply the follow up to Part 4, where we applied interesting pentatonic options on major and minor chords only.  We saved the “darker” chords for Part 5, to make the posts (and videos) shorter.

Advice: if you didn’t do so already, I highly recommend you read the beginning of the Pentatonics:  Part 4 article here … Simply put, we have to be careful when attempting to apply pentatonic scales to chords in jazz guitar improvisation. Read the introduction, and then come back here to work on applications.

Watch the video above.

Jazz Guitar Pentatonics on Dominant Chords

I have five favorite applications here. There are two suspended dominant (sus4 or 11) sounds, two unaltered dominant sounds (no altered extensions) and one dominant #11 sound (aka lydian dominant).

• On Suspended Dominant Chords
(Suspended D dominant chord: Here’s a play-along of 4 x 8 bars of D7(sus4))

Use the minor pentatonic from degree v or degree ii.

First, the degree v application is simply the related “ii chord” of an existing ii-V cadence. So, if you want a suspended sound on the V, stay on the minor pentatonic of the ii. For example, in Am7-D7, if we want a D7(sus), just use A minor pentatonic.


Next, the application using the minor pentatonic from degree ii is simply a suspended sound with the added bonus of a 13th (aka 6th degree). A bit more modern. Use Em pentatonic on D13(sus) … it is still just one note away from Am pentatonic.


• On Unaltered (“Plain”) Dominant Chords
(Plain D dominant chord: Here’s a play-along of 4 x 8 bars of D7)

Use the dominant pentatonic from
degree i or minor pentatonic from degree vi.

First, the application with degree i … is a very obvious one. On D7 chord, use D7 pentatonic. 🙂


Next, the application using the minor pentatonic from degree vi clearly outlines a dominant 13th type of sound. This should note come as a surprise: on D7 chord we use Bm pentatonic … which is simply D major pentatonic!


• On Dominant Chords with a #11
(Lydian dominant D chord: Here’s a play-along of 4 x 8 bars of D7(#11))

Use the dominant pentatonic from degree ii.

This is clearly one note difference from the above “Use Bm pentatonic on D7” … now we use E7 pentatonic instead. The one note difference (A to G#) is the #11 of the D7 chord. And we are missing this image at the moment. Notes of the E7 pentatonic: E – F# – G# – B – D, when analyzed to a D7 chord: 9 – 3 – #11 – 13 – 1.

Pentatonics on Minor 7th (b5) Chords

This is, perhaps, the hardest to hear of the jazz guitar pentatonics applications. (It is the hardest for me anyways!) The minor seventh flat five chord (aka half-diminished) makes itself hard to love in some situations. 🙂

Choices will become more obvious when dealing with complete progressions, if you wish to extend your knowledge / playing in this way. But for now, the suggested application work well on a static F#m7(b5) vamp.

But why F#m7(b5) and not any other m7(b5) chord ??!

I wanted us to keep using some of the pentatonic scales we have been using … in familiar keys. For instance, Am, Em, Bm and D7 pentatonics. They all fit on F#m7(b5) here…

 Use the minor pentatonics from degrees biii, iv, bvii
or use the dominant pentatonic from degree bvi.

At this point, you probably have a fair handle on applying different pentatonic scales to the same chord or sound. I will simply list the applications with degrees outlined. And here is a play-along of 4 x 8 bars of F#m7(b5).

Am Pentatonic on F#m7b5

Bm Pentatonic on F#m7b5

Em Pentatonic on F#m7b5

D7 Pentatonic on F#m7b5

Here’s my “beef” with the pentatonic application for the F#m7(b5) above: none of them include the natural 9th degree. Furthermore, only two of them include the flat fifth!!! However, we clearly hear the natural 9th on minor7(b5) chords played by Jazz pianists from the 1960’s and on. Think Herbie Hancock. In summary: this means that the above list of suggestions is incomplete. You’ll have to do your own research.

Pentatonics on Altered Dominants

This is the easiest and hardest one at the same time! In fact, ANY pentatonic can work on an altered dominant (as long as it “lands” on a proper resolution.) So, all in all, take the suggestions here with a grain of salt. 🙂

The neat thing about pentatonics here, is that we can pick and choose a scale that clearly outline the altered notes we really want to hear, for instance: b9, #9, b5 (aka #11), #5 (aka b13).  Here are my suggestions:

Use the minor pentatonic from degree biii or dominant pentatonic from degree bvi or the dominant pentatonic from a tritone up.

And here is a play-along of 4 x 8 bars of F#7(altered).

This first choice really is  “perfect” in terms of outlining the altered tones. We have the b7 along with all the alterations (that is sharp and flat ninths and fifths!)

Am Pentatonic on F#7(alt)

The second choice is “equivalent” to the first one, but now, the 3rd is present along with all altered tones.

C7 Pentatonic on F#7(alt)

And lastly, differing only by one note from the Am pentatonic application above, we have this, a simple trade off: we have the root (tonic) of the F#7 instead of the b9.

D7 Pentatonic on F#7(alt)

It’s worthwhile exploring for other altered dominant pentatonic possibilities. This chord type lends itself to very high degrees of chromaticism. All twelve notes are an “acceptable” choice for altered dominants!

Even if you wind up not using some of the applications you work on, at least, you’ll give your brains and fingers a little workout. 🙂

About Resolving Altered Dominants …

And one last though: rarely will you find yourself in playing situation where you just sit on an altered dominant chord for an extended period of time. Most often than not, you will resolve back to something. For instance, after F#7(alt), you could here some sort of B chord (B minor of B major for instance).

It would be wise to practice with backing tracks that have that type of resolution. Say, 4 bars of F#7(alt), then 4 bars of Bm. So you can also apply the stuff you learned in Pentatonic Part 4 on the B minor chord! 🙂

Check out iReal Pro (for Mac), you can create these type of accompaniment very easily… and it’s cheap too.

That’s it!

I hope those 5 articles on pentatonics can help you develop your own ideas and concepts in improvisation. Remember, whenever you’re in doubt, go back to the basics. Less is more. Go back to learning the minor pentatonic and dominant pentatonic shapes over the fretboard (part 2) and working on simple fun patterns (part 3).

Practice well and develop your own sound and concepts!

Read the previous posts in the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 here …

9 thoughts on “Jazz Guitar Pentatonics – Part 5 – Dominants, Altered Dominants and Half-Diminished Chords

  1. Great lesson! thank you so much! I specially enjoyed the F#7 altered bit, and so did you it seems… keep them coming!

  2. Never really understood Pentatonics.,But these 5 lessons have cleared that up .Well explained via word and video. But have slight fault in when improvising I tend to play/sound very “bluesy” as start using chromatics .No bad thing really.

  3. Been messing with chunks of wood and strings for a long time and never heard of nor realized the Dom 7 pentatonics. I’ll definitely be adding this to the arsenal. I think it’s been an important ingredient that has been lacking in my jazz playing. Thanks for the fresh perspective.

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