An important component of becoming an expert piano player is memorizing piano chords and scales. Learning to play in different piano modes is also important, especially if you wish to become a professional musician or play a role in a band that requires a lot of improvisation. In this article we will discuss minor pentatonic scales. To review other piano modes, refer to our previous articles Piano Modes Part 1, Piano Modes Part 2 and Piano Modes Part 3.
Pentatonic scales are slightly different than the scales we addressed in other articles. Instead of possessing seven notes, they are made up of only five (hence the “pent). The pentatonic scale is made up of five notes all within the same octave. It is believed the pentatonic scales dates back to ancient times. Claude Debussy and other composers have used pentatonic scales to great effect in their music.
Minor Pentatonic Scales
Minor pentatonic scales follow the step pattern as follows:
W+H-W-W-W+H-W (where W = whole step, H = half step)
So for example the C minor pentatonic scale is: C, D#, F, G, A#, C.
The same step pattern relationship applies in all twelve keys.
Major Pentatonic Scales
This is in contrast to the major pentatonic scale, which follows the pattern:
Experimenting with both the major and minor pentatonic scales opens up a whole new world of soloing possibilities. There are also more chord choices which you can make up by adding one ore more notes to a standard pentatonic scale. These scales are used quite a lot in rock music, pop music and many other styles and are a first step to playing blues scales. You will find they sound much more “edgy” than major or minor scales when played over a “rocky” chord progression. This has made the pentatonic scales among the most popular to play on guitar in rock music, but they also translate well to the piano. If you plan to join a rock or pop music band, knowledge of the pentatonic scales will not be wasted.