Why Do Pentatonic Scales Always Sound Good?!

So why is the Pentatonic Scale the Pentatonic Scale? How does it magically fit in so many scenarios and how does it work so well over so many genre’s of music?

Penta is Greek for “5”, Tonic is short for “Key center” or “First note of a scale”. Essentially it’s a five note scale. There are two main types of Pentatonic scales: Major and Minor. Based on my “What’s a Scale” Video we know that we compare each scale to the original major scale: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 (built: W-W-H-W-W-W-H).

The Major Pentatonic Scale is built: 1-2-3-5-6
The Minor Pentatonic Scale is built: 1-b3-4-5-b7

So take any Major Scale Shape and to find the major pentatonic – get rid of the 4th and 7th note. To get the minor pentatonic – flat the 3rd and 7th and get rid of the 2nd and 6th note.

So why do we get rid of those notes specifically? Modes.

We have three major type modes. They’re major because our 3rd is natural (not flatted) so they revolve around a major chord, they are Ionian (Major Scale), Lydian and Mixolydian. They’re built:

Ionian: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7
Lydian: 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7
Mixolydian: 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7

So what’s different between them? Well, going from Ionian to Lydian, the 4th note varies. Going from Ionian to Mixolydian, the 7th note varies. The pentatonic scale is a way to avoid the notes that may change from mode to mode and play the ones that are consistent throughout all the modes: 1-2-3-5-6!

How about the minor modes? The minor modes are minor because they all share a b3, consistent with a minor chord. The three minor modes are: Aeolian (Natural Minor), Phrygian and Dorian. They’re built:

Aeolian: 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Phrygian: 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Dorian: 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7

Again, what’s different between them? Going from Aeolian to Phrygian the 2 note varies. Going from Aeolian to Dorian, the 6th note varies. Let’s toss the variable notes (or the notes that could be wrong) and just play the notes that are consistent between all three of the modes: 1-b3-4-5-b7!

The scale shapes look so different sometimes because the 2 notes we take away are often found in two spots, but they are just two notes away from all the other modes. I find the Pentatonic Scale a great foundation for learning any other type of scale, you can think of them as the “bones” of your playing while you fill it out using some of the modes.

Pretty cool, huh?