Major Pentatonic Scale: Beginner’s Guide

Scales are the building blocks of music, and your knowledge of them can take you very far. Scales add feeling to the music we listen to and often are recognizable in popular songs of yesterday and today. The major pentatonic scale is popular with beginners and pros alike because of its versatility and uniquely rich sounds. A derivative of the major scale, the major pentatonic scale takes certain notes from its parent scale and allows them to shine. In this article we will explain the scale to you and why it has the appeal it does. Stick around because we are about to show you your new favorite scale.

Major Pentatonic Scales

If you are just starting to play an instrument like a guitar, you are probably looking for new tips and we are glad you stopped by here to find them. The major pentatonic scale is an excellent way to expand your repertoire and is a great way to build your confidence. Why is the major pentatonic scale so popular? Truthfully, it is all in the tonality. No matter how you play the scale, it has a pleasant sound to it. The major pentatonic scale can soon become your go-to scale at a gig.

What Is the Major Pentatonic Scale?

major scale

The major pentatonic scale takes five notes from the major scale—hence the "Penta" name—and uses them to create an entirely different sounding scale. The notes, for instance, of a C major scale go as follows C-D-E-F-G-A-B while a C pentatonic scale will take the following five notes C-D-E-G-A. By omitting the fourth and seventh scale degrees of the major scale you can create an entirely new sound independent of the parent scale. The major pentatonic scale can complement many types of chords and thus fits in most situations.

Great for Beginners


The major pentatonic scale has a distinct sound that fits in almost any genre of music. The reason for the versatility of the scale is that it contains no dissonant notes. For example, in the C major scale, F-B create what is called a dissonant tritone, this gives the scale its tension but if you remove them, then you create a scale where there are no dissonant or "wrong" notes. Because the major pentatonic scale has no dissonant notes, it is popular with new musicians, and truthfully it is a scale used even by many professionals—sometimes throughout their entire careers.

Versatility


The major pentatonic scale can be played in any key desired with the same effect, and this only adds to its versatility and appeal. You can find out what key a song is in and find yourself right in the mix with this scale so long as the chord progression allows it. Once you have learned this scale say, for instance, in C you can start the scale from say G and get a different feel than if you were to start on the root note of C. A scale that has no dissonant notes really lets you pick what flavor you want to give the song and you don't run the risk being totally off, that is a priceless freedom.

Why Types of Music Commonly Use the Major Pentatonic Scale?

Electric Guitar Close Up

The major pentatonic scale is used heavily in Western music but also makes appearances in several cultures around the world. It is likely that you unknowingly listen to this scale at least once a day. That is how common it is and how wide its appeal is. The major pentatonic scale is part of music history and there is not a musician around who has not abused it at some point. You can trace this scale to the roots of music as we understand it today.

Music History


Music Notes

Pentatonic melodies are found in early Gregorian chants and pentatonic scales have been detected in early, African, Native American, and Asian music. Because this music eventually became the roots of known genres such as gospel, jazz, and bluegrass, and then eventually blues and rock, it is safe to say that pentatonic scales are the very roots of music itself. It's somewhat of a musician's secret that the most beautiful songs you could ever hear are some of the simplest compositions you can imagine.

Rock n Roll


Rock Sign

Pentatonic scales have made a cozy home in rock music because of their versatility. Pentatonic scales fit beautifully with major or minor scales, dominant 7th chords, and even old church modes. Many rockers find soloing with the pentatonic scale to be a natural beginning to the exercise. The lack of dissonant notes allow for experimentation over chord progressions and leave the guitarist free to focus on technique and sound, discovering his or her own style in the process. You may be surprised that rock legends like Slash and Joe Perry use this scale prominently in their iconic solos and riffs.

World Instruments


World Instruments

There are instruments whose early history suggests they were tuned to the pentatonic scale just to give you an even greater idea of the influence of this scale in music around the world. In Taiwan native instruments such as their stamping pestles which are large bamboo tubes are typically tuned to the pentatonic scale. Reed pipes of the native people of South Africa are also tuned to the pentatonic scale. In popular Western music, you can hear pentatonic scales in several well-known tracks from legendary bands such as Pink Floyd. "Purple Haze" have you heard it? We are sure you have, pentatonic scale.

A Secure Future


Don't worry the major pentatonic is not going anywhere soon. This scale continues to show up in today's music and still inspires musicians to push the boundaries of their creativity. There is so much that can be done with the scale and perhaps so much still to explore and so many songs to create. We are sure the scale will be commonly used for as long as the music is being played and we are ok with that.

How Do I Remember the Major Pentatonic Scale?

Pentatonic

Remembering the major pentatonic scale should not be difficult as it only requires you to know the major scale and the 7 notes that comprise it. Once you know the seven notes of the major scale, remove the fourth and seventh notes and you got yourself a pentatonic scale. One thing that really stands true about the major pentatonic scale is that its distinct sound in almost any key will really get stuck in your head and many people recognize it purely by its sound.

Shapes


You can use shapes to remember major pentatonic scales. Shapes correspond to chord shapes. We will use G major pentatonic as an example. The first shape starts with the root note G, which is on the third fret of the sixth string, and corresponds to an E major chord, the intervals are found in this shape. Another shape for the G major pentatonic scale is placing your finger on the fifth fret of the sixth string and then using the related D major chord shape as your guide. There are several shapes you can use to incorporate and remember the major pentatonic scale, with time you will grasp it all.

Knowledge Is Power


To remember the major pentatonic scale, you need to be mindful of the different root note shapes and know how to find any note on the guitar. Yes, the scale is only five notes but being able to locate every note on the freeboard will really help you advance your skills. Once you have figured out the root note shapes on the fret board, you can then add the intervals of the major pentatonic and make your way across it. Once you listen to the intervals as you play them you find you will recognize the patterns based on sound. Don't be lazy, we know you can do it.

Patience


Learning scales takes patience as we can tell you anyone who's ever learned to play guitar has had to battle with themselves on this matter. Nobody learns scales overnight, they require composure and determination. Remember that once you have learned the major pentatonic scale, you will have in your arsenal one of the most precious building blocks of music itself. We are just providing the key here, you have to go and explore the treasure yourself. Keep your eye on the prize and practice, practice, practice, and when you tire of practicing, practice more.

Conclusion

We hope we gave you some good insight not only into this beautiful scale but into music overall and the craft of learning to play it. Once you have mastered this well-known scale there is a whole world that will open up for you and your musical personality will shine through. As you experiment, keep in mind the freedom this scale gives you. The greatest musicians of all time continue to use this wonderful scale, and through it, honor the history of it and inspire a new generation of musicians to take their place...that musician may be you.

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