Pentatonic Guitar Scale

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Widespread Pentatonic Guitar Scale

The Pentatonic guitar scale is one of the more widespread scales, for it has often been used in folk music around the world, as well as by such composers as Debussy and Ravel. There are major and minor Pentatonic scales, which means each one has different intervals. Remember from "Blues Guitar Scales" on this site that an interval is simply the difference in pitch between any two notes.

Both Pentatonic scales have the same six notes and five intervals, but the order of the notes is different. The major chord intervals are: tone, tone, augmented second, tone, augmented second. If, for instance, you use the C scale on a keyboard, the sequence would look like this: C, (whole) tone to D, (whole) tone to E, augmented second to G, whole tone to A, augmented second to C, which completes the octave. Augmented seconds are three semitones, which are usually created by playing a black key next to a particular white key.

Using Only Five Notes

"Penta" is Greek for five, so this Pentatonic guitar scale is aptly named. There are five notes (six if you count the last C, which makes the octave). Lay people might well wonder why a musician would appear to limit the range of possibilities for composing songs. These music scales limit the margin for error when playing chords over a chord progression.

An outstanding reason for using this five-note scale is to get the sound of rock and roll. Jimi Hendrix preferred this scale over any other, and today, most rock songs use pentatonic scales. B.B. King gets a blues sound from using the minor Pentatonic. Amazingly, this five-tone scale has given the world some of the best guitar players and the best rock!

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