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Pentatonic scales

Scales & modesPentatonic scales are frequently used in music all over the world : Eastern, European, Mediterranean, African, Amerindian, Oceania. The word "pentatonic" comes from the Greek word "pente" meaning five and "tonic" meaning tone.  They are considered earlier than heptatonic scales. They are divided in two categories :

  • Containing semitones (hemitonic)
  • Without semitones (anhemitonic)

There are many pentatonic scales, the best known and played in jazz are the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale (also known as "the relative minor pentatonic"). They do not have semitones (anhemitonic). These scales are very important to known for a jazz blues guitar player and improviser.

Each degree of the major pentatonic scale (which is what we are interested in) can provide a tonic for a mode. There are five modes :

  • Mode I (major pentatonic) that consists of the first, second, major third, perfect fifth and sixth.
  • Mode II (no third, suspended scale) : 1 - 2 - 4 - 5 - b7
  • Mode III (minor) : 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7
  • Mode IV (no third, suspended scale) : 1 - 2 - 4 - 5 - b6
  • Mode V (minor pentatonic) that contains the same five notes as the major pentatonic scale but its tonic (first note of the scale) is three semitones below the tonic of the major pentatonic scale : 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7

Let's take an example, the C major pentatonic (C - D - E - G - A)  has the same notes as the A minor pentatonic (A - C - D - E - G). The sixth of the major pentatonic scale is the tonic of the minor pentatonic scale.

Pentatonic scale are commonly grouped in five positions also named boxes corresponding to the five pentatonic modes of the major pentatonic scale.

Now that we have talked about the most played pentatonic scales, here are some other pentatonic scales rarely used, some of them have altered notes :

These following are from the major scale system :

  • Dorian pentatonic scale : 1 - 2 - b3 - 5 - 6 (minor pentatonic with a major sixth).
  • Phrygian pentatonic scale : 1 -b2 - b3 - 5 - b6 (minor pentatonic with a flat ninth and a flat thirteenth).
  • Lydian pentatonic scale : 1 - 2 - 3 - #4 - 6 (major pentatonic scale with a sharp eleventh instead of the perfect fifth).
  • Mixolydian pentatonic scale : 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - b7 (mixolydian mode without the sixth and the fourth).
  • Aeolian pentatonic scale : 1 - 2 - b3 - 5 - b6 (minor pentatonic with a minor sixth). There are different opinions about the construction of the aeolian pentatonic scale. Some teachers says that it contains the same notes as the minor pentatonic scale....
  • Locrian pentatonic scale - 1 - b3 - 4 - b5 - b7 (Locrian mode without the flat ninth and the flat sixth).

It's possible to build pentatonic scales from the melodic minor scale system :

  • Melodic minor pentatonic scale : 1 - b3 - 4 - 5 - 7 (this is the melodic minor mode without the second and the sixth)
  • Major seventh sharp fifth pentatonic scale : 1 - 2 - 3 - #5 - 6
  • Seventh sharp eleventh pentatonic scale (Lydian pentatonic scale) : 1 - 2 - 3 - #4 - 6 (this pentatonic is related to the lydian dominant mode, fourth mode of the melodic minor scale)
  • Seventh flat thirteenth pentatonic scale : 1 -2 -3 -b6 -b7 (related to the mixolydian b13 mode)
  • Minor ninth flat fifth : 1 - 2 - b3 - b5 - b7 (related to the sixth mode of the harmonic minor scale)
Pentatonic scale guitar diagram 1
pentatonic-scales
The minor pentatonic scale | Jazz guitar lesson & diagrams

The minor pentatonic scale is one of the most important scales in jazz music. This lesson shows you how to play it scale using guitar diagrams and licks.

Major pentatonic scale guitar diagram
pentatonic-scales
The major pentatonic scale | Guitar lesson & diagrams

The major pentatonic scale on the guitar. Lesson with fretboard diagrams, scales charts, theory and licks.

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