The pentatonic sound is one of the most recognized tonalities in music, and beginners to advanced players alike have made widespread use of pentatonics in every style of music. Although pentatonic scales have existed for centuries, they didn't become a significant part of the jazz vocabulary until the early 1960's when musicians such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and McCoy Tyner began incorporating them in their improvisations.
Of all the pentatonic scales, the major pentatonic is the most common. Because the major pentatonic scale is constructed entirely of whole steps and minor thirds, it lacks the type of chromaticism found in typical seven-note scales such as the modes of the major scale. As a result of its construction, the overall tonality of the major pentatonic scale suggests a greater sense of space than most other scales.
Following a series of whole steps and minor thirds, the formula of the major pentatonic scale is W-W-m3-W-m3. It is constructed of a root, major second, major third, perfect fifth, and a major sixth scale degree. The major pentatonic scale starting on C contains the notes C-D-E-G-A-C.
The major pentatonic scale is utilized with major family chords and can be played over unaltered major chord types including Maj6, Maj7, and Maj9. Major pentatonic is also frequently played over dominant seventh chords (7).
Just like other scales, by starting on a note other than the root, a series of modes can be generated from the major pentatonic scale. Since the major pentatonic is a five-note scale, it has five modes. The fifth mode of the major pentatonic scale has been played so extensively by itself over m7 chords that it has come to be recognized by its own name, the minor pentatonic scale. Again, due to their series of only whole steps and minor thirds, the modes of the major pentatonic scale tend to give music a more "open" type of sound.
In addition, playing the sequence of intervals contained within the major pentatonic scale and its related modes is the only way to divide an octave using five different notes without including half steps. You will also note that major pentatonic and its modes contain notes that are found next to each other on the circle of fifths.
To simplify things, soloists will often use the major pentatonic scale over all three chords of a ii-V-I chord progression beginning on the fifth scale degree of the key. For example, the ii-V-I chord progression in C major contains the chord changes Dm7-G7-CMaj7. You could play the G major pentatonic scale over all three of those chords without the fear of creating a dissonant clash against the harmony because there are no avoid notes present.
Even though the major pentatonic scale is the most commonly utilized of the pentatonics, technically, any five-note grouping could be classified as a pentatonic scale. We will define a pentatonic scale as any series of five notes located within a single octave. In this collection of pentatonic scales, each pentatonic will be identified through a series of scale degrees and will also include a list of closely associated chord types. ... Subscribe Today & Read More!
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