Using pentatonic scales to create major modes: Aeolian

The second to last of the major modes is aeolian, or natural minor. This is the kind of minor that can also be called a relative minor, because it has the same notes as the major scale it’s related to. For example C aeolian: C D Eb F G Ab Bb is the relative minor of Eb major: Eb F G Ab Bb C D. Notice how the notes are the same, but the starting point is different. Playing pentatonic major over a C minor chord/key to create aeolian makes a distinctive sound, and admittedly not one of my favorites. I’m a jazzer, and I prefer using dorian as minor all the time, but it’s important to know aeolian for those times when dorian just sounds wrong. Many rock and pop tunes use aeolian minor, especially metal.

The first choice over a C aeolian minor situation is Eb major pent: Eb F G Bb C. It gets all the important minor notes, without the F, this would be a C minor 7 arrpeggio. The second choice is Bb major pent: Bb C D F G. This is a little more “floaty” sounding, no real tension notes, but it’s much more across the key because it doesn’t use the third of C minor, which is Eb. The third choice is Ab major pent: Ab Bb C Eb F. This is a nice one, but the Ab must be handled with care. This note is supposed to resolve to a G in normal classical music usage, but as the scale has no G, it can create a nice across the key kind of sound; however, if you land on the Ab too much, it starts to make the C minor sound like Ab major for some reason.

So to transpose, look at it like: bIII/i (flat three over one), bVII/i (flat seven over one), and bVI/i (flat six over one). In the key of G aeolian, you would use Bb major pent, F major pent, and Eb major pent.

One more to go, then we’ll look at applying all of this to ii V I progressions.