Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is very fundamental to music. It is found in all cultures and is very useful for playing contemporary music. It is a 5 note scale that consists the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the major scale. This is called a major pentatonic scale. There are also minor pentatonic scales but they are really just the same as major pentatonics only starting on a different note.

pentatonic scale, scales, major, minor

Notice that the minor pentatonic is very similar to a blues scale.

Pentatonics have been around for years and are common in the work of Debussy and Ravel. It wasn't until the late 50's with the popularization of Modal Jazz that they became common in contemporary jazz. Such artists as Miles Davis, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea really developed the techniques of playing pentatonics in jazz. Listening to these artists is crucial in learning how to apply these scales.

I love playing pentatonic scales because they have a very "angular" sound if treated like chords, playing every other note of the scale. This results in lines that contain primarily intervals of 4ths and 2nds. Here is one on a C Major pentatonic:

pentatonic scale, line, melody, lick, riff

The possibilities of lines are endless. To make it even more complex, you can play different pentatonics on the same chord.

On a major chord you can play a major pentatonic built off the 1, 4, 5, or 9 (for a lydian sound)

On a minor chord you can play a major pentatonic built off the b3, 4, or b7

On dominant chords there are many possibilities depending on how "altered" you want the tensions to be, I like a major pentatonic built off the b3, b5, b6, and 6.

Now to make it even crazier, it sounds great when you weave in pentatonics that aren't in the key of the chord. This could really be any pentatonic on any chord, but they do all sound different especially in different combinations. Listen to McCoy Tyner to really hear a master of this technique.

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