Pentatonic Guitar Scales

Written by Joy MacKay
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Versatile Pentatonic Guitar Scales

Pentatonic guitar scales are comparatively simple when juxtaposed to music scales used in other cultures. The major and minor Pentatonic scales have just five different notes, or tones, including just two semitones. Intervals, however, are everything--the Arabic scale has four semitones, which makes this music sound unusual and strange to Western ears.

Simple they may be, but these Pentatonic scales are universally used in today's rock and roll, and have long been used in folk songs in North America, Africa, and Asia. Even classical composers such as Debussy and Ravel incorporated these scales into their music. From songs of the people, to rock, to classical--Pentatonic scales lend their unique sound to expressive songs and compositions.

Scales of Other Cultures

Although it is not a musically useful scale, the chromatic scale is helpful to begin understanding why some scales--there are many!--are tuneful and sound pleasing to us in the Western part of the world. This scale is produced by starting with any note and playing adjacent semitones until you complete the octave. In other words, this is an equal-interval scale, unlike the Pentatonic guitar scales.

Indian music also sounds exotic to our ears. The Indians use several scales, but one of the most common is an equal-interval scale that does sound musical to us. One of their scales divides an octave into 22 microtones, which are even closer in pitch than semitones. Lennon and McCartney may not have been able to read musical notations, but their interest in Eastern music--and especially the sitar playing by George Harrison--illustrates their knowledge of the technical aspect of music.


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