Pentatonic Scale Pedagogy

Pentatonic Scale Pedagogy

Pentatonic Scale Pedagogy

There are actually 38 possible pentatonic scales times each of their 5 modes. Most musicians generally use two modes of the 0,2,4,7,9 pitch class set, which is where we get the typical major pentatonic (1,2,3,5,6) or the 5th mode of major pentatonic which is usually called the minor pentatonic (1,b3, 4, 5, b7). All of these 38 pentatonic scales can be very useful and musical if placed in the right context. If you want to explore the 38 pentatonic scales I recommend the “Sonic Resource Guide” which shows you many applications of these 38 pitch class sets.

Many of the most memorable melodies are made up of pentatonic Scales. This is true across cultures and styles of music. “Amazing Grace” is a good example of an iconic song using a major pentatonic. Composers like Debussy and Ravel relied heavily on the major pentatonic in sections of their music, and it can be found throughout Jazz, Blues and Rock music. World Music is also an abundant source of melodies using a major pentatonic Scale.

Pentatonic Scale Pedagogy Concepts

A pentatonic scale can be used in many ways. It is often combined with other scales to make a melody. A major pentatonic is most often combined with an Ionion, Mixolydian or Blues Scale. For guitar players it is also a scale where a lot of embellishment is used, via bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs. This website concentrates more on patterns and side stepping but if you are interested in the approach of using a major pentatonic in a blues setting I recommend the “Blues Campus” course which examines many of these concepts as they relate to playing over a simple Blues progression.

Some of the techniques explored in this course are fairly common,, but most are not often discussed and certainly not with firm attention to how you “hear” or should “hear” various techniques. I tend to divide up the use of pentatonics into 3 categories:

1. Rock and Blues, where the major and minor pentatonic are often used with embellishments such as bends, slides and other ornaments. A limited amount of sequential pattern playing is used.

2. More challenging idioms such as jazz where not only are the major and minor pentatonic used but many other pentatonic scales. In this situation pentatonics are used more like other scales with typical embellishments from the idiom. There is often a lot of sequential pattern playing. This is true not only in Jazz but also in Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock. Much of this course will explore the sequential pattern playing with the major pentatonic found in these idioms.

3. Pentatonics used as a vehicle for playing in and out of a key center. (Currently mostly found in Jazz and Free Improvisation idioms.) Most often a parallel key center of up a 1/2 step, down a 1/2 step or a tritone away, is used. We call this “side stepping.” There is a great deal of sequential pattern playing in side stepping. A side stepping melody can be played at any tempo but often the melodies are faster because it helps the listener’s ear hear the intervallic and melodic relationships. You will notice this when you listen to the études that accompany this course. They are played at three different tempos. What might sound strange at a slow tempo can often sound just fine at a faster tempo.

Much of the material presented on this website is from the Pentatonic Scale Lexicon Volume One: Major by Bruce Arnold and is used by permission. All rights are reserved on all information found on this website. For visiting this site you will receive a 10% discount on this course when you purchase it. Just use the promo code: lex when checking out via the cart system.

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