Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pentatonic scales (major & minor scales explained)

So far we learned major & minor scales, let's now take a look at pentatonic scales. Pentatonic scales are perhaps the most widely used scales in music. Found in the music of nearly all ancient cultures, today they are used in musical styles ranging from blues and rock to jazz and classical.

The term "pentatonic describes the number of tones in the scale, "penta" means five, and "tonic" means tones. Therefore pentatonic scales contain five tones, as opposed to diatonic scales, which contain all seven tones of the musical alphabet. Although they contain fewer notes, the two pentatonic scales in common use still reflect the major and minor qualities of their diatonic counterparts.
Major Pentatonic Scales: The major pentatonic scales can be seen as major scales minus the fourth and seventh scale degrees, leaving the following notes: 1,2,3,5 and 6. Let's take a look at C major & C pentatonic scales below:-

C major scale:                    C    D    E    F    G    A    B    C
C major pentatonic scale:  C    D    E    G    A

The major pentatonic scale has a simple, uncluttered sound and solves a problem that the diatonic major scale presents to untrained or inexperienced improvisers. The fourth and seventh scale degrees of the major scale, being a half step away from the third and octave respectively, have strong tendencies to resolve. If they are left unresolved without a clear purpose, as they often are when musician first begin improvising, the resulting effect is unstable and incomplete. By eliminating these tones from the scale along with the half step intervals, the melodic difficulties are reduced, but the essence of the major quality remains. Melodies become much easier to manipulate, which accounts in part for the universal appeal of the pentatonic scale.

Minor pentatonic scales:-  Minor pentatonic scales may be seen as the diatonic (natural) minor scale minus the second and sixth degrees, leaving the following notes: 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7. Let's take a look at the C minor & C minor pentatonic scales below:-

C minor scale:-                        C    D    Eb    F    G    Ab    Bb    C
C minor pentatonic scale:-      C    Eb    F    G    Bb

In natural minor scales, the fourth and seventh scale degrees are a whole step from the third and octave respectively , so they don't have the same tendency to resolve that these tones have in the major scale. However, the second scale degree (a half step below the minor third) and the sixth scale degree (a half step above the perfect fifth), if handled carelessly, can create the equivalent problem in minor keys. The minor pentatonic scale eliminates these half steps, yet still contains the essence of the minor quality and serves a function equivalent to the major pentatonic- that of a simple, straightforward scale for improvising and composing.

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