The Pentatonic Scale – Somehow We All Know It

The pentatonic scale is by far the most used scale in music on the planet. It shows up in folk and indigenous music from all over the world and is used heavily in most popular forms of music.

Perhaps it’s because the pentatonic scale jumps naturally to our ears. The acoustical vibrations that make up the major pentatonic are the most harmonious in the natural world. If you listen close you can hear it everywhere, and it seems to be as natural as language, as Bobby Mcferrin demonstrates.

The scale is made up of 5 (penta) notes (tonic) – C – D – E – G – A and consist of major seconds and minor thirds. This is a major pentatonic in C and if transposed to any other key, or played in the minor, it’s make-up remains the same. The two notes added to make the diatonic scale are F and B. These notes are a tritone apart add half steps to the scale, adding dissonance, which, I personally argue, makes music more interesting!

As we move through the alterations of the scale from culture to culture we see the addition of dissonance in many. the blues scale and the Hirajoshi are the two that come to mind first.

The natural flow of the scale and instant familiarity we have with it makes it perfect for pop music. If you chose one of the most used chord progressions and threw a melody built from the pentatonic scale on top… you might have a hit on your hands… but I personally hope you put more effort in!