The Penatonic Scale
As the name ‘penta’ would suggest, the pentatonic scale consists of 5 notes. It is a very commonly used scale in many genres of music, including rock, blues, country, and even some heavy metal.
A pentatonic scale comes from a major scale by removing the 4th and 7th degrees. So a pentatonic scale consists of only the 1st 2nd 3rd 5th and 6th of the major scale. This gives it more of an ‘open’ feel and probably is the why it can fit into so many different types of music and appeals to so many listeners.
Like the standard major scale, there is also a minor pentatonic scale. There is also a Pentatonic Blues scale, but more on those later.
The major pentatonic is one of the easiest scales you will learn and one of the most important - there are simply less notes to remember. Tip: when you are jamming with friends, or improvising to a track, and have forgotten the complex scales, you can always use the pentatonic scale to play over the chord progression. Don’t let the simplicity of the scale deceive you - they can pack a punch in solos!
Past legends of the pentatonic scale are B.B King, Eric Clapton, and even Kirk Hammett from the heavy metal band, Metallica.
Here we can see the difference between a standard major scale, and a major pentatonic scale.
G – A – B – C – D – E – F# - G
To form the major pentatonic, we drop the 4th and 7th (which are highlighted in blue), to form this:
G major pentatonic
G – A – B – D – E - G
Remember, we've removed the 4th and 7th tonics, or notes. In the case of G major we've got rid of the 'C' notes and any 'F#' notes.
We've also rearranged the fingering so that we play two notes per string. Playing pentatonics two note per sting is the most common and popular way to play them.
The pentatonic minor can be thought of as natural minor scale, but with the 2nd and 6th left out.
Here is an example of a natural minor and a pentatonic minor:
G natural minor
G – A – Bb - C – D – Eb - F - G
Similar to the major pentatonic, we drop two notes from the natural minor scale to form the minor pentatonic scale. In this case, the highlighted 2nd and 6th are dropped.
G pentatonic minor
G – Bb - C – D – F
The major and minor pentatonic is commonly played in the key of E. Here is an example:
Sound clip - Slow
Sound clip - Fast
In this example the first bar we play E minor pentatonic. And in the second we switch to E major pentatonic.
TIP: By taking a lick or passage in a minor pentatonic, and
playing the exact same thing, but three frets higher. You will be changing that
lick or passage into a major pentatonic. Look at the first bar in this example,
move everything along three frets, and play the same lick, but we'll have changed
it from a E minor pentatonic into a G major pentatonic lick! This trick is handy
for switching in between major and minor pentatonics mid song.
Key points to remember!
- A major or minor pentatonic scale is made from five notes.
- They can be thought of as major and minor scales with the 4th and 7th notes
- Pentatonics are very common in all western music.