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Piecomics
03-14-2019, 01:25 PM
Hi all, can someone explain the pentatonic scale to me? Like why is it a thing? Can you play music using only the notes on the pentatonic scale?

BuzzBD
03-14-2019, 02:40 PM
The beauty of the pentatonic scale is all the notes sound good together. For example, on a Native American flute, which are normally tuned in a minor pentatonic scale, you can pick a tempo like short, short, long and play random notes and sound quite musical. The blues make use of the pentatonic scale and it is very easy to improvise using those notes.

Jim Hanks
03-14-2019, 02:57 PM
When you say "the" pentatonic scale, that is already a misnomer as there are many pentatonic scales. The reason it is a thing is that 5 notes are easier to keep track of than 12. Technically, any combination of 5 notes is a pentatonic scale, though of course some will be more useful musically than others. The two that are the most common in western music are pentatonic major (e.g. C D E G A) and pentatonic minor (e.g. A C D E G). These are good places to fall back on and branch out from, if that makes sense.

seesar
03-14-2019, 03:12 PM
Hi all, can someone explain the pentatonic scale to me? Like why is it a thing? Can you play music using only the notes on the pentatonic scale?
Yes, there are songs that are written only in a pentatonic scale. The on that comes to mind is the jam tune "Sunny". I'm sure other people can name plenty.

The importance of the major and minor pentatonic scales though is their usefulness in improvisation. Put on a blues backing track, or any song that stays in one key, and mess around with a pentatonic scale and you'll quickly get it. Then throw in some blue notes and you'll be jammin.

bacchettadavid
03-14-2019, 03:16 PM
I'll try to answer this as succinctly as possible...

I'll assume that you mean the major second, major second, minor third, major second major pentatonic scale. These types of scales lend music an open, airy feeling (this is part of what makes them popular in rock), and you can definitely play music using only notes from one or two pentatonic scales; in fact, much of their popularity stems from their versatility.

The primary use for pentatonic scales (at least in swing, rock, jazz, pop, etc.) is as a tool for melodic conception. Every major key naturally contains a pentatonic scale on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant (e.g., C major contains C, F, and G pentatonic scales). Likewise, every pentatonic scale is natural to keys built in a similar relationship (e.g., a C pentatonic is natural to the keys of C major, F major, and G major). What this means is that for many common progressions, you can construct flowing melodic lines using a relatively small toolkit (in many common progressions, one or two pentatonic scale will suffice for an entire progression). Conversely, melodies constructed using pentatonic scales can often be harmonized with relative ease. As an added bonus, pentatonic scales generally contain relatively few "avoid" notes.

All of this comes together to reduce the amount of intellectual overhead and/or experience required to improvise melodic and accompaniment parts.

I hope that helps. I'd be quite glad to explain all this in more depth, but first, I'd like to answer your question with a question: how comfortable are you with some music theory?

Piecomics
03-14-2019, 03:35 PM
Thanks! Bacchettadavid, I am comfortable with the discussion and would like to know more. It sounds like the benefit of only playing notes in the pentatonic scale would be that you will have no “wrong” notes. But I wonder, is this scale sufficient for an interesting song?

gochugogi
03-14-2019, 04:18 PM
Thanks! Bacchettadavid, I am comfortable with the discussion and would like to know more. It sounds like the benefit of only playing notes in the pentatonic scale would be that you will have no “wrong” notes. But I wonder, is this scale sufficient for an interesting song?

Maybe a zillion and one gospel, pop and folk songs, e.g., Amazing Grace, Arirang, I Gave my Love a Cherry, etc. But then you can live dangerously and toss in a leading tone from time to time or even switch modes. Also, once you master the Western style major and minor pentatonic scales you can spend the rest of your life with the hundreds of other pentatonics, e.g., Japanese Yo scale, many of which use microtones.

bacchettadavid
03-14-2019, 06:27 PM
It sounds like the benefit of only playing notes in the pentatonic scale would be that you will have no “wrong” notes.

The only wrong notes are the ones played without conviction. :music::rock::music:

To elaborate on my previous response, consider a 16-bar I-IV-V progression in the key of G (call it a blues progression if you wish, but this would be at home in any American roots genre):

| G Maj | G Maj | G Maj | G Maj |

| C Maj | C Maj | G Maj | G Maj |

| C Maj | C Maj | G Maj | G Maj |

| D Maj | D Maj | G Maj | G Maj |

Before we can outline our solo, we need to lay a little groundwork. Three pentatonic major scales can be built on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant of the scales for each of these chords as follows:
Pentatonic scales for G Maj:
G - G A B D E
C - C D E G A
D - D E F# A B
Pentatonic scales for C Maj:
C - C D E G A
F - F G A C D
G - G A B D E
Pentatonic scales for D Maj:
D - D E F# A B
G - G A B D E
A - A B C# E F#
Lastly, the avoid notes for these chords are as follows:
G Maj - C (sometimes F#)
C Maj - None (rarely B)
D Maj - G

Now that all of that is out of the way, we can consider a few different ways to apply these scales to the progression...

First we have the KISS approach: play the G pentatonic scale over the entire progression (avoid notes in parentheses):

| GABDE | GABDE | GABDE | GABDE |

| GA(B)DE | GA(B)DE | GABDE | GABDE |

| GA(B)DE | GA(B)DE | GABDE | GABDE |

| ((G))ABDE | ((G))ABDE | GABDE | GABDE |

To add a little interest, we can change our scale choices to match each chord. In this case, the B of the G pentatonic is augmented to become C in the C pentatonic, and the G is diminished to become F# in the D pentatonic. Playing a V pentatonic over a V chord is general best practice in I-IV-V and ii-V-I progressions, and these small changes can be powerful in the context of the progression:

| GABDE | GABDE | GABDE | GABDE |

| CDEGA | CDEGA | GABDE | GABDE |

| CDEGA | CDEGA | GABDE | GABDE |

| DEF#AB | DEF#AB | GABDE | GABDE |

To change things up a bit more, we can switch between the I and V pentatonic scales over the I chord to create more melodic variety:

| GABDE | GABDE | DE(F#)AB | DE(F#)AB |

| CDEGA | CDEGA | DE(F#)AB | GABDE |

| CDEGA | CDEGA | DE(F#)AB | DE(F#)AB |

| DEF#AB | DEF#AB | GABDE | GABDE |

If you still want a bit more to work with, try changing scales with every bar:

| GABDE | ((C))DEGA | GABDE | DE(F#)AB |

| CDEGA | GA(B)DE | DE(F#)AB | GABDE |

| CDEGA | ((F))GACD | GABDE | DE(F#)AB |

| AB(C#)EF# | ((G))ABDE | DE(F#)AB | GABDE |

This is nothing more than a very cursory primer to pentatonic soloing, but I hope that helps!

Django57
03-15-2019, 01:40 AM
Wow bacchettadavid what a superb post i for one appreciate your help .

Jerryc41
03-15-2019, 01:54 AM
You know those situations when the answer to a question leaves you more confused than before you asked? Music Theory is great - more for some people than others. Sometimes, a little knowledge is best. :D

Jerryc41
03-15-2019, 01:56 AM
I'll try to answer this as succinctly as possible...

You gave two good replies. I'll save them and re-read.

Piecomics
03-15-2019, 03:09 AM
Super helpful post bachettadavid! And everyone. I am debating about trying out a new instrument, a Kamale n’goni. It is a 12 string harp, tuned pentatonically. Sounds beautiful but I wasn’t sure how to feel about the limited notes. This makes me feel better about it.

Croaky Keith
03-15-2019, 03:43 AM
Quote Originally Posted by bacchettadavid View Post
I'll try to answer this as succinctly as possible...

You gave two good replies. I'll save them and re-read.

Thanks for the explainations, I'm saving your posts too, & will re read the info at my leisure, hopefully, it will all sink in. :cool:

Down Up Dick
03-15-2019, 03:57 AM
Yeah, I saved it too. It’s a really interesting and mebbe worthwhile thread. I plan to play around with it a bit. :old:

Django57
03-15-2019, 04:48 AM
My problem is i don't seem to be able to improvise , i watch youtube videos and they're noddling away and making it sound musical i start playing and it sounds awful , i can sit and learn stuff note for note if somebody shows me , one day maybe it'll click .

bacchettadavid
03-15-2019, 05:24 AM
Glad to be of some assistance. I teach this stuff pretty regularly, so taking the time to draft that response also benefits me. :cheers:

Play around with the concepts outlined, and they will sink in. If it feels like a worthwhile pursuit, the next step is to learn the major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, and blues scale shapes on the ukulele neck. That bit is work, but it opens many doors.

Piecomics, I am elated to read that you are interested in the kamele n'goni. There exists a small cohort of UUers who have an affinity for African music -- if you do a little digging, you might even find 'ukulele transcriptions of Shona music. ;)

bacchettadavid
03-15-2019, 06:03 AM
My problem is i don't seem to be able to improvise . . . one day maybe it'll click .


Don't overthink improvisation. Here's a simple little confidence-building thing I do sometimes for my students:

Play a G major chord. Play it again. Really get inside the chord. Recreate the chord in your mind's ear; improvisation is mostly about have a good mental image of how we want to sound.

Take the first line of the chord progression (| G | G | G | G |) and put it on repeat (||: G | G | G | G :||). Now strum a simple pattern (any strum; it doesn't matter). Wait for a groove to settle in; you'll know when you've got it. Now stop strumming, but maintain the rhythmic G chords in your mind's ear (||: G | G | G | G :||).

Let those four bars play out in your head for a while until you can inhabit the groove you've created. It's your groove; you're already improvising. Wait for the first bar to come around, then play a short phrase using only 2-4 notes from the G major pentatonic scale (G A B D E). Remember that phrase; don't second guess it. Repeat it. Repeat it again, being sure to keep the groove going in your head.

If at any point you lose the groove, go back to square one. Improvisation is temporal, so focus is of utmost importance.

Now wait for the first beat to come around again. Play your phrase like you own it; it's YOUR phrase, after all. In the second bar, repeat that phrase. When bar three rolls around, answer with another phrase 2-4 notes long using GABDE. Remember it (we'll be recycling it). Repeat it until you can play it, too, with conviction. Now for the clincher: in bar 4, repeat the phrase from bar 1, but this time, change it up slightly (play each note twice, maybe add a note or two, etc.).

And there you go. You're 25% of the way through the song. From there, it's all experience and learning. Repeat the exercise above with different grooves and different phrases, and you'll get better at it over time.

Hope that helps!

bacchettadavid
03-15-2019, 06:38 AM
Ubulele, your generosity with your knowledge is part of what influenced me to share some of mine, and Jerryc41, I’m glad to read in your follow-up comment that you found my explanation helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.

I am appealing to all invested parties (myself included): I implore you not rehash the UU Forum music theory conflict here. Pentatonic scales are fascinating from many different angles, and this thread has potential to branch out in so many interesting directions...

kypfer
03-15-2019, 06:42 AM
The only wrong notes are the ones played without conviction. :music::rock::music:

To elaborate on my previous response, consider a 16-bar I-IV-V progression in the key of G (call it a blues progression if you wish, but this would be at home in any American roots genre):

... edited for convenience ...

This is nothing more than a very cursory primer to pentatonic soloing, but I hope that helps!

Damn that is useful !!

I've copied that to a text file and will be using it for reference :music:

Django57
03-15-2019, 07:30 AM
Your a true gentleman bacchettadavid from another David, thanks i will definitely use your advise.

natchez
03-16-2019, 08:25 AM
Excellent thread I gave it five stars :). This post should bump it up again; I hope more folks read it. Thanks for all the great information here.

johnnysmash
03-19-2019, 02:31 AM
A very excellent thread. I have never really understood how to use scales to improvise until now. Thank you for posting.

bacchettadavid
03-19-2019, 05:44 AM
Kypfer, natchez, and johnnysmash:

You're each quite welcome; I'm glad my you found my ramblings useful. Improvisation is one of music's fundamental pleasures, and pentatonic scales are a great starting point.