Willie Thomas and Not-Quite-Pentatonics

Willie Thomas

Hullo jazz fans. Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve been driving myself nuts on a film project.

I’ve found time for a little bit of teaching too, and I’m always on the lookout for new approaches – some just click better with some people than others, so the more you have… I recently came across trumpeter Willie Thomas and his www.jazzeveryone.com site.

Kind of chimed with me and I think it’s worth your while investigating his method. This is based on what he calls “pentatonic pairs”, and I’ve noticed a few commenters have found the name a little confusing. Do check his site out, but personally I feel you might grasp his system a little easier by thinking of it as something like “universal 5612 scales” or “inverted thirdless pentatonics” (although you might find those names confusing too, just a different kind of confusing).

There’s a lot more to what he teaches, and this initial concept is really just the starting point, but in a nutshell the idea is that you play the 5th, 6th, root and 2nd of any II, V or I chord (regardless of quality). This is of course a major pentatonic but missing its 3rd, and inverted so the 5th and 6th are regarded as being below and often act as pickups. It’s a sort of all-purpose seesaw structure around the root.

Of course, these are regarded as “pegs” to be elaborated on, and Willie will take you through all kinds of ways to put some real bebop goodness on the pegs, but it’s a very useful starting point. It’s also a great quick start to get beginners playing something that sounds and feels good.

On a personal note, it’s also another piece of evidence to support one of my favourite musical arguments – in most of jazz, the “finalising”, “at rest” tone on a tonic is actually the 6th, not the 7th. See You’ve Been Taught the Wrong Chord Tones.

PS Please don’t bite my head off – I know you use the 7th as well, but…

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, i) Reviews
5 comments on “Willie Thomas and Not-Quite-Pentatonics
  1. Adam Cole says:

    I look forward to seeing this guy’s take. I’m also glad you set the record straight on the 6th and I missed it last time. Not that it matters what I think, but I completely agree.

    • elvina jones says:

      I have been trying to crack Willie’s “pentatonic pairs” code for awhile now and even have his books that were used in schools in the western U.S. His playing and exercises are very tantalizing but his explanations and language (and typos in the book…) as well as his circle of fifths diagrams with a million circles and arrows are frustrating as *&%#$@

      My solution is to just play the exercises and figure out the concepts myself. I totally get the 5-6, 1-2 idea – then he adds thirds and chromatic and passing tones – but what a struggle – I almost wonder if Willie is bit sadistic because of his nearly incomprehensible teaching style –

      • Kathleen Turner says:

        Please contact me if you are interested in selling a book with the CD for playing along.

        • Jason says:

          If that’s addressed to Willie, I suggest you contact him directly.
          Don’t know how much could be really made of it though. It’s really just the pseudo blues/gospel blues scale that cocktail pianists have been using for decades. Based on the major, it’s 1, 2, b3. 3, 5, #5, 6.

  2. Richard Walker says:

    I used Willie Thomas’s method for about ten years. The best way to figure out what he was doing was to play along with him doing his exercises. Once you get that sound and approach in your ear, you can navigate through just about any set of changes and have it sound like bebop.

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