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Music Theory

More Pentatonic Scales

When talking about “the” pentatonic scale, most people are referring to the minor pentatonic scale. That doesn’t mean that there only has to be 1 single pentatonic scale. A pentatonic scale is just a scale that has 5 notes. If we take a look at how the pentatonic scale fits into the major scale, we can derive more pentatonic scales, and hopefully be inspired by new sounds, that are created by subtracting notes, instead of adding!

Let’s start by reviewing the major scale’s basic pattern:

W W H W W W H

Now if we rotate it so that the minor scale is centered on the natural minor mode (Aeolian) we get:

W H W W H W W

And if we placed this in Cmajor/Aminor we get the notes:

A B C D E F G

Now if we were to select the minor pentatonic notes, starting on A, we get:

A B C E F

Let’s see what happens if we overlay them:

A B C D E F G

So.. it turns out that you can create the minor pentatonic scale by taking the natural minor scale, and dropping scale degrees 2, and 6. This just means we can play A minor pentatonic scale, in the key of A minor. Let’s do some more exploration though. The major scale is a 7 note scale, and 1 mode per scale tone. What would happen if we apply the pattern of dropping scale tones 4, and 7 from other major scale modes?

Exploring new Pentatonic Scales

Let’s try on the next mode up, which would be Locrian, or mode 7:

B C D E F G A

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Now let’s drop the 4th and 7th scale degree starting from here:

B C D E F G A

Click the play button to hear the result. You will find that it sounds very different from the regular modes, or minor pentatonic. It has its own new flavor, just by omitting a different combination of notes.

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We can apply this same logic to all the modes of the major scale and see what results we get. It’s interesting keep track of which kinds of intervals each pentatonic scale has, to see how many unique kinds of pentatonic scales we create.

Mode # Pentatonic Third Forth Fifth Seventh
Ionian 1 Major Major Perfect Perfect Major
Dorian 2 Minor Minor Perfect Perfect Minor
Phrygian 3 Hirachōshi Minor Perfect Perfect Minor
Lydian 4 Minor Major Augmented Perfect Major
Mixolydian 5 Sypro? Major Perfect Perfect Minor
Aeolian 6 Minor Minor Perfect Perfect Minor
Locrian 7 Kumoi Minor Perfect diminished minor

Here are all the notes in the scale if we are in the key of C major/Aminor:

Mode # 1 3 4 5 6
Ionian 1 C E F G B
Dorian 2 D F G A C
Phrygian 3 E G A B D
Lydian 4 F A B C E
Mixolydian 5 G B C D F
Aeolian 6 A C D E G
Locrian 7 B D E F A

Analyzing the results

So looking at the chart and going through every mode and dropping the relative 2nd and 6th scale degrees, it turns out we have 5 unique pentatonic patterns. It also turns out that “the” minor pentatonic pattern works on 3 different modes, Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian. That means if you are in A minor, you can play the minor pentatonic starting on A, D or E. The more interesting ones I think are the ones based around 4, 5 and 7. I like 4 because it has the augmented 4th and sounds a bit more mystical or something.

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Now how is this useful for production? In a given key, choose one of the pentatonic scales to create a melody around. Check out the track Alkaline With One Trak featuring the hirajoshi pentatonic! The melodies on this track were created only using the pentatonic based on lydian.

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