Pentatonic Scales

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Favored Pentatonic Scales

Pentatonic scales may seem limited--they only have five notes (six if you count the last note that completes the octave). These major and minor scales, however, are two of the five most useful and favored scales in Western music. Used extensively in folk music and rock and roll, they were the scales of choice for Jimi Hendrix.

These seemingly simple Pentatonic scales are the basis for much of the music of Africa and Asia, and for such favorites as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Amazing Grace." You can start on any note to play this scale, but you must use the interval order to have a major or minor Pentatonic guitar scale, for instance. The major Pentatonic was explained in "Pentatonic Guitar Scale" on this site.

Minor Pentatonic and Blues Scales

Pointing up the importance of intervals, the only difference between the major and minor Pentatonics is the order of the tones, or notes. Start with A, augmented second to C, (whole) tone to D, tone to E, augmented second to G, tone to A, to complete the octave. Five intervals and five different notes; six notes, if you count the final A.

The only difference--but what a difference it makes!--between the minor Pentatonic and a blues scale is one note. If you play an Eb (flat) after the D, there's your funky, bluesy sound. Knowing the main scales, and the relationships among them, their chords, and a harmonic chord progression, is essential to playing well whether you play for yourself or in a musical group.

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