Master the major pentatonic scale

Master the major pentatonic scale | Elevate

Dive in and master the major pentatonic scale

The major pentatonic scale enjoys widespread usage in the music world. A scale can be described as an aggregation of notes that are organized either in an ascending or a descending pitch order. A lot of scales abound in music. Some, (such as the major pentatonic scale) have what may be termed happy sounds while others (such as the minor pentatonic scale) have sad or melancholic sounds. Because of its wide application in various strands of music, mastering the fundamentals of the major pentatonic scale is of utmost importance, whether you are an aspiring bass guitarist or music scholar.

What is a Pentatonic Scale?

Though it enjoys wide modern appeal, the pentatonic scale is a very ancient musical concept. In terms of scope of application, you’ll find this popular scale in diverse forms of music including blues, rock n roll, country, classical, and jazz, among others.

The word Penta means five while tonic is derived from tone, so a pentatonic scale is a five-note scale. All the notes in this scale emanate from the major and minor scales. In the major scale, these five degrees include 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 as well as 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 in the minor scale.

The Major Scale

The major scale is considered by many as the most important scale in music. It is the cornerstone of nearly all forms of Western music. It is a scale is a diatonic scale, meaning that it has seven notes. It also has five intervals of a tone and a couple of semitone intervals.

In musical notation, an interval is a space or distance between a couple of notes or pitches. There are different kinds of intervals, e.g., whole steps (W) and half-steps (H). A whole step may also be referred to as major 2nd or whole tone while a half step is often known as minor 2nd or semitone.

The Major Scale Pattern or Formula

The major scale follows a whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half pattern as depicted in the illustrations below.

    W W H W W W H

From the above illustrations, it can be seen that only the intervals between the third and fourth notes and the seventh and eighth notes are half steps while the majority of the intervals are whole steps.

The scale has two tetrachords, both of which are of W, W, H order. A tetrachord is a set of four notes on a scale. In terms of positioning, a tetrachord can be either the top or bottom tetrachord on a major scale. For instance, G A B C can either be C major’s top tetrachord or the bottom tetrachord of the G major scale

The Notes Of The Major Scale

If you wish to identify the notes of any major scale, all you need to do is to utilize the scale’s formula. For instance, a G major scale will start with the letter G (known as the root note) as follows: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#. This formula is made up of one sharp (F#) while the others are six natural notes.

Note that a scale’s root note is nothing but the first degree of that scale. So the root note of the G major note is the note G.

Degrees and Names of the Notes in a Major Scale

The degrees are the numbers assigned to each note in the scale. There are a number of reasons it is important to identify the degrees of a major scale. For instance, such knowledge enables you to determine how the scale relates with other scales as well as how its notes relate with each other.

Here are the degrees and names of the scale.

DegreeName1Tonic2Supertonic3Median4Subdominant5Dominant6Submediant7Leading tone

The Natural Minor Scale

Just like the major scales, minor scales are also not new and enjoy significant popularity in the music world. They are applied to generate melodies, chord progressions, and riffs, among others. There are three kinds of minor scales:

  • Natural minor scales
  • Harmonic minor scales
  • Melodic minor scales

The natural minor scale is conceptually identical to the major scale because it also has seven notes which makes it a diatonic scale. It can be repeated either above or below the octave note just like the major scale. However, the step patterns between minor scale notes (especially the third and seventh notes) are slightly different. Note that the natural scale is so called because it occurs naturally without any changed scale degrees or added accidentals.

Natural Minor Scale Pattern or Formula

Below are the step pattern associated with the various minor scale degrees:

  • 1st degree: the scale’s root
  • 2nd degree: a whole step up from the scale’s 1st degree
  • 3rd degree: a half step up from the scale’s 2nd degree
  • 4th degree: a whole step up from the scale’s 3rd degree
  • 5th degree: a whole step up from the scale’s 4th degree
  • 6th degree: a half step up from the scale’s 5th degree
  • 7th degree: a whole step up from the scale’s 6th degree

The scale ends with a whole step to connect again the root, this time a higher octave than previously.

Notes in a Minor Scale

  • The first note and root of a natural minor scale is A
  • B is the second note
  • C is the third note
  • D is the fourth note
  • E is the fifth note
  • F is the sixth note
  • G is the seventh note
  • A is the higher octave note.

Degrees in a Minor Scale

Though the natural minor scale has the same seven degrees as the major version, some of their English names (e.g., the seventh degree) and solfège syllables (e.g., the third, sixth, and seventh degrees) differ slightly.


Relative Major and Minor Scales

Relative minor/relative major is a musical principle that links the major and minor key centers. Each major key is associated with a corresponding relative minor key and vice versa. However, identifying a particular minor scale that corresponds to a major scale requires knowledge of root notes.

A relative minor scale can be identified via a couple of ways. One way is by finding out the note that is a step and half or three semitones below a major root note. For instance, the note that is three semitones or a step and half below G is E. Therefore, E minor is the relative minor of G major. Also, since the note that is a step and half below C is A, one can safely conclude that the relative minor of C major is A minor.

A second way is to determine the sixth scale degree of a major scale. Again, the sixth scale degree of G major is an E. So the relative minor of G major is E minor while that of C major is A minor.

It may interest you to know that each major or minor scale corresponds with its identical key signature. So the G major scale corresponds with the G major key while the E minor scale corresponds with the A minor key, etc.

Apart from the relative characteristic, major and minor scales can also be parallel.

While relative major and minor scales have the same key signature but start on varying notes. (as is the case with C major and A minor), parallel major and minor scales use the same starting note but their key signatures vary (as is the case with C major and C minor)

Major Pentatonic Scale

The major pentatonic scale is derived from the diatonic major scale. It is comprised of five notes/degrees consisting of the root (1st), 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes. It can be observed here that the fourth and seventh notes of the major scale are not part of the major pentatonic scale notes. The scale’s sound is described as happy or joyous. A good example of the major pentatonic scale is the C major pentatonic scale and the G pentatonic major scale.

Major Scale

1C 2D 3E 4F 5G 6A 7B

Major Pentatonic Scale

1C 2D 3E 5G 6A

Major Pentatonic Scale Formula

Unlike the major scale which has both autonomous whole and half steps, the major pentatonic scale has no autonomous half steps. Rather, its half steps are attached to whole steps as shown in the illustration above.

Hence, the formula for the major pentatonic scale is:

W, W, W+H, W, W+H (whole step, whole step, whole step plus Half step, whole step, whole step plus Half step)

One advantage of the above step pattern is the production of sounds that are unique and airy.

Here are all the 12 major pentatonic scales as well as illustrations showing major pentatonic scale positions:

C Major (C, D, E, G, A, C)

C# Major (C#, D#, F, G#, A#, C#)

D Major (D, E, F#, A, B, D)

Eb Major (Eb, F, G, Bb, C, Eb)

E Major (E, F#, G#, B, C#, E)

F Major (F, G, A, C, D, F)

F# Major (F#, G#, A#, C#, D#, F#)

G Major (G, A, B, D, E, G)

G# Major (G# A# B# D# E# G#)

A Major (A, B, C#, E, F#, A)

Bb Major (Bb, C, D, F, G, Bb)

B Major (B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B)

Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale is derived from the natural minor scale. But unlike the natural minor scale made up of degrees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, the second and sixth scale degrees are absent in this scale. Hence, it only has degrees 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7.

This difference explains why both scales do not sound exactly the same. Both the minor scale and the minor pentatonic version have a relative major pentatonic scale.

Minor Scale

1A 2B 3C 4D 5E 6F 7G

Minor Pentatonic Scale

1A 3C 4D 5E 7G

Minor Pentatonic Scale Formula

The expression below shows that the formula for this scale is W+H, W, W, W+H, W.

Like the major pentatonic scales, there are also 12 kinds of natural minor pentatonic scales, as shown below:

  1. A minor (A, C, D, E, G, A)
  2. Bb minor (Bb, Db, Eb, F, Ab, Bb)
  3. B minor (B, D, E, F#, A, B)
  4. C minor (C, Eb, F, G, Bb, C)
  5. C# minor (C#, E, F#, G#, B, C#)
  6. D minor (D, F, G, A, C, D)
  7. Eb minor (Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db, Eb)
  8. Em pentatonic scale (E, G, A, B, D, E)
  9. F minor (F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb, F)
  10. F#m (F#, A, B, C#, E, F#)
  11. G minor (G, Bb, C, D, F, G)
  12. G# minor (G#, B, C#, D#, F#, G#)

What is the Difference Between the Major Pentatonic Scale and the Minor Pentatonic Scale?

Though both scales have five degrees each, a number of differences exist between them. Their main difference is that the former is derived from the major diatonic scale while the latter originates from the natural minor scale.

Also, unlike the minor version, degrees 4 and 7 are not included in the major pentatonic scale while degrees 2 and 6 which the major pentatonic scale contains are not part of the minor pentatonic version. Both have different patterns or formulas.

G Major Pentatonic Scale

Just as in other pentatonic scales the G major pentatonic scale is also made up of five notes. The five notes include G A B D E. These notes are part of seven notes that constitute the G major scale. The only difference between the G major pentatonic scale and the G major scale notes is the lack of the 4th and 7th notes, as is the case with other pentatonic scales. The G major triad cord is made up of the notes G (root), B (3rd), and D (4th).

There are different ways for a guitarist to learn the G major pentatonic scale. For instance, you may want to learn to play the G major pentatonic scale via a tablature as shown in the diagrams below, or by studying G major pentatonic scale charts.

G Major Pentatonic Scale Tablature Patterns

First pattern

Second pattern

Third pattern

Fourth pattern

Fifth pattern

It is often said that practice makes perfect, so continuous practice under expert cost-effective tutelage is very essential if you want to be good in the G major pentatonic scale, no matter your preferred mode of study.

How Do You Play a Major Pentatonic Scale? (The 3 Frets Down Rule)

Most guitar players tend to be more conversant with the minor pentatonic scale than the major pentatonic scale. So the 3 frets down trick is a technique that helps major pentatonic newbies start having a feel of the scale. The trick is easy. Just adjust the minor pentatonic scale down to start playing the major pentatonic scale in the same key. For instance, to play the A major pentatonic, you simply adjust the A minor pentatonic from the fifth fret to the second fret

One question that may arise from the 3 fret down idea is why bother to master the major pentatonic scale since someone who has mastery of the minor pentatonic scale can easily adapt to it. Well, the 3 fret down principle may be simple to apply but you need to understand that even though the fretboard pattern is similar, the location of the root notes differs in both scales.

For instance, in the A minor pentatonic, the root note is A which is the base and emphasis when playing. Same goes for the C major pentatonic where the root note and emphasis is C. Therefore, because of these varying characteristics, it is essential to have a strong comprehension of the roots in order to create sounds proficiently from each scale.

Why Should You Use the Major Pentatonic Scale?

Many prospective blues guitarists are often scared to face the major pentatonic scale because they feel it is not only complex but also not as versatile as the minor pentatonic version. For them, the minor pentatonic scale works just fine when it comes to churning out melodious blues and blues rock sounds.

But this is a wrong impression because the major pentatonic scale is one scale every serious aspiring guitarist MUST master. No matter how difficult you find the scale, learning it adds a brand new and very valuable dimension to your guitar-playing skillset that leaves you better off than the monotony of just being a minor pentatonic scale expert.

In a nutshell, when you master the major pentatonic scale, you add the happy and enthusiastic feel associated with it to the sad and melancholic feel of the minor pentatonic scale to your portfolio of guitar skills.


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