Pentatonic Scale: Part 1

Today’s post is Part 1 in a series on the pentatonic scale.  There are many different ways to construct pentatonic scales, but in modern popular music the most common uses are the major and minor forms.  The more exotic versions will have a semitone (half step) in the scale, but the ones we are looking at today will only have whole step and ditone construction.  There are countless uses for the pentatonic scale, especially for bassists.  Let’s look at the major pentatonic scale.

A quick definition of a pentatonic scale:

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale and minor scale.

Major pentatonic scale

The major pentatonic scale may be thought of as a gapped or incomplete major scale.[9] However, the pentatonic scale has a unique character and is therefore complete in terms of tonality. One construction takes five consecutive pitches from the circle of fifths;[10] starting on C, these are C, G, D, A, and E. Transposing the pitches to fit into one octave rearranges the pitches into the major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A.

C major pentatonic scale

Another construction works backward: It omits two pitches from a diatonic scale. If we were to begin with a C major scale, for example, we might omit the fourth and the seventh scale degrees, F and B. The remaining notes, C, D, E, G, and A, are transpositionally equivalent to the black keys on a piano keyboard: G-flat, A-flat, B-flat, D-flat, and E-flat.

G-flat major pentatonic scale

Omitting the third and seventh degrees of the C major scale obtains the notes for another transpositionally equivalent anhemitonic pentatonic scale: {F,G,A,C,D}. Omitting the first and fourth degrees of the C major scale gives a third anhemitonic pentatonic scale: {G,A,B,D,E}.

If we begin by using the C major pentatonic scale, then the notes are C D E G A  (scale tones 1,2,3,5,6)
Let’s look at this fingering chart at determine which notes are the roots (in this case the note C)



The red circles are the roots of the scale pattern (in this case C).  Place your fingers in 7th position and play the note C on the 8th fret, 4th string, 2nd finger.  D on the 10th fret, 4th string, 4th finger.  E on the 7th fret, 3rd string, 1st finger.  G on the 10th fret, 3rd string, 4th finger, etc.

This scale pattern is moveable.  You can play this pattern in any key if you start the pattern on root of the key you want to play.  If we wanted to play a D major pentatonic scale, we could move this pattern up two frets and it becomes a D major pentatonic.

Below is a video showing how to play this pattern from Dave Marks.


Here is a video from MarloweDK  using the C major pentatonic.  This will help you hear what this scale sounds like in a musical setting.  Always try and make your practicing musical.  The point of learning scales is to allow your hands to know where to go to make the sounds you hear from your brain.  Notes and scales, like words, need context.

There will be more posts on this and other scale/pattern studies in the future.