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Composing with Pentatonic Material

     In this post I will show you some ways of being creative with pentatonic scales. In the end you can hear the music track I composed by taking the most from intervals and chord relationships that you can derive while exploring the pentatonic scales world. The choices regarding the used material will always depend on where the music takes me, which in the end has to sound good and fulfilling. If it sounds good to you, then it’s good. There are no rules to this. So, here is how I gathered the pentatonic materials:

     I started out with a melodic fragment from A minor pentatonic and this is from where many of the song materials came from:

melodic fragment

The chord structure is derived from the notes in the melodic fragment

Main melodic fragment in context

     After that I harmonized the A minor pentatonic scale. But because you can make whatever pentatonic scale you want, I chose other ones for contrast and harmonized them as well. These pentatonic scales are all centred in A but they are based on mode subsets like A Aeolian, A Locrian and A Lydian b7. That said, and in order of appearance, I will be taking chord progressions from this material:

harmonized am pent
harmonized am pent - hirajoshi based on locrian

     After harmonizing the scales, I started to fiddle around with some possible chord progression ideas. Some of the used chords were based in 4ths and 5ths chord construction. Notice how I colour coded the chords so you can know from which scale these come from (see above):

chord progression ideas
Testing possible chord progressions based on chords from the harmonized scales

Melodic fragment harmonized with “harmonic test 1” and “harmonic test 3” chords. The guitar fill is made by using the melodic fragment trasnposed in descending 5ths.

     Many of the chords derived from the scale harmonization are suspended chords, which can be seen as invertions of chords built in 4ths or 5ths. Taking that in consideration, I decided to use those intervals and build a melodic succession of fourths and fifths starting from C. When the pitches are put in order, you get the Db major scale after stacking 4ths and D major if stacking 5ths, respectively:

     Here is a mixed melody based on fourths and fifths interval that I will be exploring:

Contrasting 4ths and fifths transposed a step up in the repetition

     For variety sake, I decided to have some polychord structures originated from Db and D major to create some extra tension later on, if needed:

To create a more pleasing modulation contrast, at least to me, I decided to transpose the contrasting tonalities Db major and D major a half-step down, to C major and Db major; and thus maintaining all the chord relationships

Polychords in context

     And back to the melodic fragment; the notes in red represent the main melodic fragment and, as said, if you group the melody pitches you will get a Gsus2 chord with the notes G, A and D. I used this chord as basis for harmonizing the following pitches from the melodic fragment, as you can see below:

Parallel harmony based on the intervals from the melodic fragment with contrasting harmony from hirajoshi scale – the A Locrian pentatonic subset

     Inspired by the example above, the guitar solo I ended up recording was harmonized with chords from the pentatonic scales I considered earlier, for contrast.

     There is a lot more material that could be squeezed out of this but it would be unrealistic to think that we would use everything in a single track. Anyway, I hope that this inspires and excites you to revisit your pentatonic materials and come up with different approaches to your music. For reference, here is the full track:

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