Learn the pentatonic scale and how to use it

In this lesson you will learn a very simple scale (5 tones) that is widely used to add flair and originality to your playing.

It is a very basic 5 note scale which can be used in any key for the purpose of improvisation.

This free lesson will give you both the formula for the scale as well as suggestion on how to use it in you playing.


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What is the pentatonic scale? The word pentatonic comes from the Greek, "penta", meaning 5 and "tonic" meaning tones. This versatile scale is based on the major scale and uses the scale notes, 1, 2, 3, 5,and 6. In other words, this scale uses a root, a major second, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a major sixth. So a C pentatonic scale would be C, D ,E ,G,and A, as seen below.

It's really just that simple.

Just take any major scale and remove the 4th and 7th notes and you will have the pentatonic scale for that key.

So the F major 5 note scale would be F ,G, A, C and D.

In the key of G it would be G, A, B, D and E and so on.

A note of interest.

If you start on the black note Gb/F# and play all the black notes you will hear the pentatonic scale for the key of Gb/F#. It may sound a bit "oriental" as it is the basis of a lot of Eastern music.

If you are playing a song in the Key of C and are using mostly the diatonic chords from that particular key than you will find that by using the notes in the C five note scale you can create melodies and improvisations that will sound harmonious. It's hard to make a mistake.

The minor pentatonic scale.

Just as the relative minor scale in a given key will share the notes of the major scale related to it, so the same will hold true for the minor 5 note piano scale as seen in the graphic below.

Using the scale.

Making use of this scale requires the ability to experiment and let go of any fear of making a mistake.

Actually mistakes can be very instructive if you recognize them and then do not repeat them.

It takes a certain amount of mistakes to get good at anything so in some sense the more mistakes the better.

Again, just don't repeat them.

A good exercise would be to take a simple song that you are already familiar with with just a few simple chords and while keeping your left hand playing the chords as you normally would, figure out the pentatonic scales for each of the chords and replace the melody with one of your own.

Start very simply with just a few of the notes of the scale.

If a particular phrase or series of notes sounds good than repeat it.

Repetition of nice phrases of notes are pleasing to the listener and that repetition is what makes a melody "catchy".

Vary the notes and the rhythmic pattern to add variety. Too much repetition can be boring to the listener.

A suggested hand position to begin.

Lets assume that the song is in the key of C or A minor.

I use two different hand positions when teaching this scale as well as when I am actually improvising or soloing with the scale.

Position one, would be Right hand thumb on A which is the sixth note of the C pentatonic scale.

The rest of your fingers would then fall naturally on B, C, D, and E.

You then have 4 of the 5 notes under your fingers with you 3rd finger being the Root of the scale.

Although the B note is not part of the 5 note scale you will find it will fit in places as a passing tone as well as being part of the G pentatonic scale which will be useful if you are in the Key of C.

Position two would be right hand thumb on the E note which is the third note of the 5 note scale in the key of C.

Skip the F note and place second finger on G, third finger on A, and fifth finger on C. Now you have E, G, A, and C under your fingers.

Try each of the above hand positions individually for a while until you are comfortable with each and then try moving from one position to another by shifting the position of your thumb from A, to E.

A request from your Personal Piano Professor... Learning to understand and use these lessons may require that you are able to ask questions and get answers as well as encouragement.

It is my desire that you you will feel free to ask questions as well as make suggestions about how to make these lessons better for yourself and others.

Use the contact form below or use the link above to give me more information on what I can do to personalize your learning experience.

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Ready to play the Blues?

Click on the link below to expand your knowledge of the pentatonic scale to include the blue notes.

learn the blues scale and how to use it

from pentatonic scale to PIANO SCALES
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