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The Pentatonic Major and Minor Scales

     When I mentioned the overtone series and that the pentatonic scale is one of the most used and recognized scales in the world, you probably noticed that there were some scale degrees missing. Probably, the most commonly used pentatonic scale used is the major pentatonic which is the one closest to the first note sequence in the overtone series:

     In comparison with the diatonic major scale, the pentatonic major doesn’t have the 4th and the 7th degree. This basically removes the half-steps from the scale and thus the possibility of the augmented 4th and minor 2nd intervals that sound a lot harsher in comparison to the other. And that, by itself, makes the pentatonic scale simpler and more versatile regarding its usage.

C major pentatonic with the missing 4th and 7th degrees from the C major diatonic scale

     There is another way of building this scale which is starting on C and then moving in a circle of fifths; we get C G D A and E. Put in order, we have the C D E G and A, which is the same major pentatonic presented before.

     The pentatonic minor scale is built on the 6th degree of the major pentatonic scale (that is if you count the removed degrees). It starts and finishes in A but with the same notes of the C major pentatonic scale:

A minor pentatonic scale built on the 6th degree of the relative C major scale

     Because of this inversion, the relative positions of the removed notes shift places and in order to build the minor pentatonic scale we basically remove the 2nd and 6th degrees from the minor diatonic scale.

     There are several pentatonic scales throughout the various musical cultures of the world and it would become a very extensive subject on its own to cover all the scales available. But let’s not forget what a scale is; a group of notes dividing the octave. And with that in mind, you can build whatever scale, pentatonic or otherwise, according to your musical purposes or intent.

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