As you may guess from the name, a pentatonic scale consistors of just five notes, as opposed to the general general major and minor piano scales, which have seven. You may think the pentatonic scale is only used in certain kinds of musical styles, such as blues, jazz and rock. In fact, they are used very wide indeed and can be found in musical styles as diverse as folk music from Hungary and from certain Far Eastern countries, including Malaysia and Japan, and even in European Classical music, as in some compositions by Debussy and Chopin .
Their vast use could be explained by the fact that they are made up of sounds which are strictly consonant, ie pleasing to the ear. So you can take any note in any pentatonic scale, play it in whatever order you choose relative to the others, and it will sound as if it belongs just where it was played. This is why there are no less than five different pentatonic scales for the piano.
As we have said, a pentatonic scale consist of five notes and has five different variations.
Here they all are in C Major:
3. C – D – F – G – B flat
4. C – E flat – F – G – B flat
5. C – E flat – F – A flat – B flat.
There is a formula for determining each different kind of scale, so that you can work out what the notes are in any Major or Minor key signature.
This is as follows:
1. root – second – third – fifth – sixth
2. root – second – fourth – fifth – sixth
3. root – second – fourth – fifth – minor seventh
4. root – minor third – fourth- fifth – minor seventh
5. root – minor third – fourth- minor sixth – minor seventh.
The first example is the most common when it comes to playing piano, especially when used in blues, jazz and rock.
OK, that's fine as far as it goes, but how are these scales applied in practice?
Basically, they help you get around the keyboard when making chord changes, as they enable you to make the transition from one chord to another fairly seamlessly. Because of this, they are also extremely useful when it comes to improvisation.
However, we've left the best bit until the end.
In fact, all the black keys on the keyboard make up a pentatonic scale. So, starting with G flat, play each black note in turn and that is a pentatonic scale:
· G flat is the root,
· A flat is the second,
· B flat is the third,
· D flat is the fifth
· E flat is the sixth.
You can clearly see that this complies with the formula at (i) above.
So if you learn to play a chord progress in G flat Major, you can try improving by using just the notes of the G flat pentatonic scale. And that's how pentatonic scales work.
Try some more experimenting and enjoy.