Major Pentatonic: Essential Information

Difficulty: Spectrum

The Major Pentatonic scale is the same as the minor pentatonic but has a different root note and tonal centre. Kind of a 'mode' of the Minor Pentatonic if you like. It is most used in country, rock and blues. Penta is a prefix for five and tonic is note, therefore the name tells us it is a five note scale.

Even though it has the same visual shape as the Minor Pentatonic it is very important that you treat it differently - if you play your Minor Pentatonic licks over the major chords it will mostly sound naff, more about that in Why and How!

Scale Formula

The scale formula for the Major Pentatonic can be a useful thing to know if you want to work out the notes in any given Major Pentatonic scale. The formula describes the interval distances between each note of the scale.

 
T
 
T
 
TS
 
T
 
TS
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
1

T = Tone [whole step] • S = Semitone [half step] • TS = Tone + Semitone (minor 3rd interval)

Comparison With Major Scale

Scales are always compared to the Major Scale to find the intervals used.

 
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Major Scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
C Major Pentatonic
C
D
E
 
G
A
 
C
Equation
1
2
3
 
5
6
 
1

The Major Pentatonic is essentially a Major Triad with the 2nd and 6th degrees of the Major scale added, giving us notes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 from the Major scale.

You could also think of it as a major scale with the 4th and 7th degrees missing. The 4th degree of any Major type scale usually sounds wrong over the root chord (so is better left out anyway) and because it has no 7th degree it fits over both Major 7 and Dom 7 chords. So I think of it as a Major Scale with the difficult notes taken out :)

Chords In The Key

There are quite specific ways to use the Major Pentatonic, most commonly over the diatonic chords (diatonic means 'chords of the key'). It's also used sometimes as a kind of 'extended arpeggio' which we'll look at more in the next lesson!

 
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Major Pentatonic
C
D
E
 
G
A
 
C
C Major Diatonic Chords
C
Dm
Em
F
G
Am
Bm7b5
C

Further Reading

I always thought of the Major Pentatonic as ‘the major scale with the difficult notes left out’ which I mean to be slightly comical, but it’s true! When you’re playing the C Major Scale over a C Major Chord, the two notes that cause the most tension are the 4th and 7th - which are the two notes removed from the Major Scale to make the Pentatonic!

The Major Pentatonic contains the notes of the C Major Triad, plus the ‘colour tones’ - the 6th and the 2nd. Note that we might also call the 2nd the 9th, which is the same note but heard up an octave, and we could also call the 6th the 13th, as they are the same note.

There are two approaches you can take to use this scale. The easiest is to play the Major Pentatonic of the key you’re in over the whole chord progression. The other way is to treat the scale more like a kind of extended arpeggio on the root of the chord being played. This second approach is obviously more difficult, but it can sound super effective if you have some Major Pentatonic licks that you can use to ‘follow’ the chords - more on that later!

To understand the Scales and how to use them properly you will get great benefit from a solid grounding in basic music theory like you'll get in my Practical Music Theory course. You'll learn all the rules that the Minor Pentatonic breaks :)

Major Pentatonic Scale

- LESSON STEPS -

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