The Pentatonic Scale - Understanding the 5 Note Scale

What are pentatonic scales?

While you explore different types of scale on the piano, you will realize that each scale is constructed and played differently.

One type of scale that may seem strange in terms of the number of notes used is the pentatonic. This is one of the unusual scale patterns that exist in music. Among the number of scales that exist in music, this type of scale has the least number of notes.

A pentatonic-scale consists of five notes and is also called a  five tone or five note scale. This type of scale has no semitone and uses mostly whole tone or whole step movements. Even though this five tone or five note scale has fewer notes than a major or minor scales, it is more complex to remember from memory since it has a strange melodic patterns.

If you should play the black keys on your piano keyboard starting from the F sharp key and ending at D sharp within one octave, then you would have played a pentatonic or five note scale.

Why not give it a try? Play it on your keyboard and lah the melody it creates. Here are the keys that you will use. F#, G#, A#, C#, D#. The pentatonic or five note scales are used in melodies mostly from the east especially in China, Korea, Japan, India and East Africa. However, there have been many contemporary musicians and composers from all over the world that use this type of scale in their music today.

There are two basic types of pentatonic or five tone scales and as a pianist it’s your duty to practice them. They are the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic.

Major / Minor Pentatonic Scales

A major pentatonic or five note scale can be constructed from a major scale by using a simple formula.

A major pentatonic (five note scale) is formed by choosing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of a major scale. So therefore, the C major pentatonic or five note scale includes the keys of C, D, E, G, A.

The minor pentatonic includes the same notes of a major pentatonic. However, the tonic or root note of the minor pentatonic begins on the 5th note of the major pentatonic.

For example the C major pentatonic or five tone scale is C, D, E, G, A. Since A is the fifth note in the major pentatonic, it will be the root note for the relative minor pentatonic and so it will be called A minor pentatonic or A minor five note scale.

Here are the letters for the “A minor pentatonic” – A, C, D, E, G.

If you should look carefully at both scales you will realise the letters used are the same. However, the positions of each note in the minor pentatonic scale are inverted. Below is a table with all the major and minor pentatonic scales that can be played on the piano.


Exploring Piano Scales

Playing Major Scales on the Piano

Understanding Minor Scales

Playing Blues Scales on the Piano

Piano Chromatic Scale Lesson

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