44: Major Pentatonic Scale
Get New Lessons
Lesson 44: Major Pentatonic ScaleThis lesson explores the major pentatonic scale, a popular scale in pop music.
Before taking this lesson, you should know:
If you know the major scale, then the major pentatonic scale is easy; you just leave out degrees 4 and 7. So, the major pentatonic scale is just these degrees of the major scale:
1 2 3 5 6
For reference, here are the pitches in the common major pentatonic scales:
Why use this scale? If this scale is just some notes from the major scale, why call it a separate scale? The answer: What you leave out in music is as important as what you put in. The major pentatonic scale has its own feel, which you might call "simple" or "primitive" or "folk-y" or "rock-y", compared to using the complete major scale.
Key-based or chord-based. You may find this scale used two different ways:
The major pentatonic scale is just one example of a pitch palette; that is, using a limited set of pitches to create meaning for the listener.
Exercises (from Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting):
Why 1 2 3 5 6?If you're wondering why this particular subset (1 2 3 5 6) of the major scale should be "special", more than other possible subsets (e.g. 1 2 3 4 5), here are some reasons:
Major Hexatonic Scale
Another subset of the major scale which is not talked about as much as the major pentatonic scale is the major hexatonic scale (6 pitches):
1 2 3 4 5 6
Note: The definition of "major hexatonic scale" is not well standardized; you can find it defined as different sets of scale degrees in different sources. I vote for this definition (1 2 3 4 5 6 ) because:
Keep your ears/eyes open for this major hexatonic scale when you're analyzing songs for pitch palettes.
Next: If you understand the major pentatonic scale, you're ready for Lesson 45: Embellishing Tones.