A scale used around the world

We can immediately start playing major pentatonic scales by using a major scale and then eliminating two notes:

  • 1 2 3 4 5 6 maj7 8
  • 1 2 3 5 6 8

Minor pentatonic uses the same notes, but just as various modes sound different, it sounds very different from major pentatonic. We start with Dorian:

  • 1 2 b3 4 5 6 (b)7 8
  • 1 b3 4 5 (b)7 8

There are various ways to fill in the pentatonic scale with at least one passing tone, and perhaps the most used alternate scales are the two blues scales:

1 2 #2 3 5 6 8 where the passing tone is #2/b3.

Then we have the other form:

1 b3 4 #4 5 (b)7 8, where the passing tone is #4/b5.

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Pentatonic Scales



2 thoughts on “Pentatonic

  1. An immediate impression and flashback. I encountered Pentatonic twice before. One was while studying theory, with a complicated formula of intervals to be remembered. I knew it long enough to pass an exam. I knew the black keys give a Pentatonic so that was a go-to device for “remembering” those intervals. The 2nd time was some teacher sites, where the teacher started with black key Pentatonic so that the child could improvise right away and never get an ugly sound. I tended to wonder if anything was learned, or it’s just a way of feeling free at the piano (not a bad thing). What happens when you move to white keys? And … notation is sort of more white-key based.

    This 3rd time I’m seeing the Pentatonic vis-a-vis familiar scales with notes left out. It’s accessible and clear. There is no interval series to memorize, and I am not chained to black keys as a reference. Thank you for this.

    1. I don’t like the “trick” about just using black keys, for this reason. It is limiting. I think it’s far better to link them to the major and Dorian scales. In addition, adding just one passing tone in the minor pentatonic leads you right the blues scale we hear used so much in improv.


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