Lesson #5: Jerry Bergonzi Patterns

The PDF file for this lesson is here:

Jerry Bergonzi Patterns


I’ve always had a private musical infatuation with Tenor saxophonists. Don’t get me wrong-I think every musician should have a healthy relationship with their instrument and the masters that play it. There’s just something about the tenor saxophone that I find appealing. Maybe it’s the fact that I relate to it as I would my own voice? I did sing in the tenor section of a college choir for 4 semesters. Anyway, since the age of 18 I’ve gone out of my way to see all the major Tenor players I could. Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Sonny Rollins, George Garzone, John Tchicai, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Dewey Redman are a few names that come to mind.

 By far, the best tenor saxophonist I have ever seen live is Jerry Bergonzi. Luckily, I was able to see him not once but quite a few times during my time in Boston, Ma. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to study with him formally because he was at the New England Conservatory and I wasn’t a student there. Luckily, I have his records and books to draw from. I rarely suggest books to people but I must say that I can confidently recommend Jerry Bergonzi’s volume on Pentatonics:

In lesson #5, I have taken some of his pentatonic sequences and applied them to the 5 positions of the guitar. Just to reiterate some of the points I made in the video:

 1) Make sure you know all of your pentatonic scales before attempting these sequences. Most people like to pretend they have them down because they know a box or two. I’m talking all positions, in all 12 keys, with out hesitation. You should also be able to apply both a major or minor pentatonic on top of any chord with out thinking about it.

2) Spend a great deal of time learning each position’s pattern in one key. Like I said, once you are able to burn through one key, the rest will easily fall under your fingers.

3) Time. Time seems to be everybody’s Achilles heel. The first time you try to try to play a line using these patterns, you’ll more than likely start dragging the tempo a bit. Again, this is due to the seemingly awkward nature of the lines that you’ll end up creating. Just remember, a line full of dotted 8th notes picked in a staccato fashion isn’t jazz (assuming that’s what you’re going for.) Try to play even 8th notes in succession without being restricted by the bar line.



  1. you are awesome, I am a seasoned guitar play with MAJOR holes in my knowledge of theory. What lessons of yours do you recommend? feel free to email me.

    thanks for inspiring.

  2. thanks, nice lesson. I will pull out my Bergonzi books again. I’d be interested in hearing more about your approach to using pentatonics to get outside the key.

  3. Hey man, you really know your stuff. I’ve been a guitar player for 15 years but have mainly focused on rhythm and songwriting. I’ve dabbled in soloing and I’m ok but it’s something I want to be good at before I’m dead and gone. I’ve got all I can out of rhythm playing and while I will always love to play rhythm, I feel like I’m cheating myself by not fully understanding the soloing aspect. I think my biggest challenge (I’m 35 btw) is to stop viewing soloing as patterns on the neck. Any tips or lessons to get me started on the right track?

    FYI – I don’t really know theory but I can play triplets and quadruplets in some scales. In other words, after 15 years, I do have some soloing ability but it’s severely lacking in originality I think. I’d love to get your assistance. If you’d like to hear where I’m at, I could provide a link to one of my ‘solo’ attempts. Being mainly a songwriter, I don’t have much recorded in the soloing department.

    You’re incredible, keep it up!

  4. Hi Tony, the Jerry Bergonzi lesson is great, it has spiced up my soloing a lot, the initial interval of a perfect 4th which is common in Bergonzi patterns has led me to search for or experiment with wider intervals not just in the pentatonic scale. In one case I was able to imitate Mike Sterns “chiming” sound. I think the next step is to organise my own intervallic patterns. I am begining to fuse all 5 pentatonic shapes, producing sounds horizontally along the neck, rather than being trapped inside of boxes, sometimes I may hit a non diatonic note but this adds to the excitement of playing in this fashion. I will either purchsse Bergonzi’s book or log in for a couple of lessons. Many thanks for a really inspirational lesson.

  5. Great Lesson — thank you very much. I know we all have our favorite sax players and it’s difficult to do them all justice but I’m wondering if Jackie McLean has influenced you in any way. Have you studied any of his recordings? If so, are there specific patterns you see displayed in his playing that you can comment on?

  6. Hi Tony could you explain why are you using those 4 notes patterns? I can’t find those in the book. Thank you very much!

    1. Sorry, I never saw this comment for some reason. My new book comes out next weekend and I have section on the 4-note patterns. Basically, it’s like a triad with upper-structure extensions.

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