Pentatonic scales

A few thoughts on major pentatonics


The music sheets in this section (in .mus file extension) can be played by Finale Notepad software.


One of my students recently asked me to teach him Japanese scales. Although I understood what he was asking, he in fact wished to learn something exotic, but I regretted to tell him there was no such scale as Japanese. Nevertheless, if you want to get some exotic stuff, I recommend you get familiar with the Chinese music, which is based on the major pentatonic scales, in a wider sense the seven-note major scale. The following melody is not only one of music pieces composed out of G major pentatonics, it also incorporates a C note outside of the scale, which is called ‘pien’ in Chinese and it actually shifts the scale to a diatonic scale. So this piece of music can be played easily on the second, i.e. major, degree of an E minor pentatonic scale, which is actually a G major pentatonic scale.


Chinese music - Download


Others, like the African-Americans a long time ago, also discovered the natural beauty of the pentatonics. The below melody by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak has a story: the composer lived and worked for a few years in the United States. During that time he gained a lot a musical experience, which would be reflected in his Symphony no. 9, also known as New World Symphony. The second movement involves a melody in major pentatonic, resembling the spirituals of the African-Americans. Although it is completely Dvorak’s brainchild, the interesting part is that it would later become so popular among African-Americans that they sang it as if it was their own music. I put the notes in this here in the following sheet music from my memory so it may alter from the original one.


Dvorak - Download


Here’s a video of this melody played by an orchestra. - Pentatonic scales - A short introduction