For Just Five Notes, This Scale Has Huge Potential!
As you maneuver around the keyboard and learn more about its music, you may discover what seems like a never-ending world of scales. We can’t deny that piano lessons largely focus on scales, but unless you learn them, you really restrict your potential to play a wide variety of songs. One of the scales that you may run into is the major pentatonic scale. This particular scale is unique in that it’s comprised of only five notes instead of the traditional seven (we just remove the 4th and 7th note in the major scale) and they’re what distinguishes non-European music such as Gospel, Blues, Jazz and Folk music from classical music.
Becoming popular in American music only recently, the major pentatonic scale is prevalent in Scottish, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, and Buddhist music. The trick to recognizing and appreciating it is understanding its structure. This is because its very characteristic is universal or natural-sounding to almost everyone.
The Three Types Of Pentatonic Scales
There are three types of pentatonic scales, however this article will discuss the major pentatonic scale. The hemitonic scale employs half-notes and flats, while the other type — the minor pentatonic scale — focuses on the natural minor scale. The major pentatonic scale however, as you can probably guess, plays notes from any of the major scales (C, D, E, G, or A). Also known as the anhemitonic pentatonic scale, this pattern plays notes within a single octave.
A Pleasing Harmony That’s Extremely Easy To Play
When played, the notes of this scale are often whole steps apart (or minor thirds apart) which makes them extremely easy to play. If you’re a visual piano player, then you may appreciate the fact that the notes of this scale are played in pairs. That is, two differing notes of each pair sit on a single staff line. Once you hear the results, you can recognize a strong sense of Asian influence and each note creates a pleasing harmony.
It’s Ambiguity Is Necessary For Improvisation
What’s particularly interesting is that this is a scale that’s played across instruments – meaning that even rock guitarists play this scale as well — for one it’s creative opportunities. That’s why the scale is so popular in jazz. Its simplicity allows for steps and leaps that other scales don’t allow, but the octave that they’re played in contains it in a way that provides some structure.
This simple freedom is necessary for improvisation. The thirds and sevenths that are prevalent in traditional scales can be restrictive. And the lack of them gives the pentatonic scale the ambiguity it needs to suggest musical interpretation.