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Thread: Pentatonic scales

  1. #1

    Default Pentatonic scales

    I"m 76 yrs old and have been playing about 2 1/2 years and play with a small group at nursing homes several times a month. I can pick 12 or so tunes from tab and
    another 8 or 10 from memory, I can hear the chord changes but cannot tell what
    chord to go to so I;ve been trying to follow along by picking out the tune (quietly) as I
    hear it. I use the notes in the song's key scale and sometimes I can do it pretty well most of time it's just so so. I've been reading a lot about the pentatonic scales and
    am wondering why they are important and how should I use them? I should tell you
    that I've not had any musical experience prior to picking up the mandolin.
    Last edited by nick hyserman; Dec-29-2016 at 10:56pm. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Nick, can you pick out a major scale? If so, the pentatonic scale is simply the first, second, third, fifth and sixth notes in that scale - if we're talking about the major pentatonic (which is good for bluegrass). "Penta" means five. So the pentatonic scale is 5 notes from the underlying major or minor scale.

    There is also the minor pentatonic, which is the first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh notes of the minor scale. The minor pentatonic works well for the blues. But forget about that for now.

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    This may help:


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  5. #4
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by Stevo75 View Post
    Nick, can you pick out a major scale? If so, the pentatonic scale is simply the first, second, third, fifth and sixth notes in that scale - .
    i.e. drop the fourth and seventh note.

    The mandolin makes great and easy to remember patterns for this in G and D and A. Just practice them and you will find they are useful in so many surprising ways. (Not to mention playing bugle calls.)
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by nick hyserman View Post
    why they are important and how should I use them?
    Folk have answered well on what the pentatonic scale is: Five specific notes taken from the diatonic scale.

    Why is it important? Well, you have 2 less notes of the scale to learn for a usable pattern, 2 less notes of the scale to play in soloing, and the five notes you're using are the most likely notes to fit in the melody of most songs. You can learn more about 'why this is the case from a music theory standpoint' from so many resources, but as far as "Why the pentatonic scale?" that is the reason, it's a simpler scale that fits well in soloing.

    How should I use them?
    I'll give just one quick example with the major pentatonic starting with index finger on the 3rd string.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I apologize about using the key of F# in my example, I already had this image in my attachments, but the key doesn't matter. Study the pattern. the pattern above is played with index finger on the green spot of the third string (F# in this example). The five notes of the pentatonic scale in this example are F#, G#, A#, C#, D#, so as you can see, the pattern I've shown goes from index finger on 3rd string on up to one octave on second string. It also shows position of C# and D# on 4th string.

    You can play all kinds of licks and find numerous melody lines within this simple pattern, and to change to another key, simply find the note with index finger and start the same pattern in another key. Try it along with your favorite tunes on the radio.

    Beginner's hint: To limit yourself to just the five notes, keep your index finger planted on the key note, and use the second and third fingers to play on the 3rd and fourth string. Move this around anywhere on the fret board to play in any major key.
    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Dec-30-2016 at 10:08am. Reason: to emphasize this is for major keys
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  8. #6

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Whenever a thread comes up about penatonic scales I always think of this YouTube video "bluegrass box".

    https://youtu.be/dHBG-BVk6M

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales


  10. #8

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Thank you all very much. Most helpful

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    I saved the following from a thread several years ago.
    I apologize to the person who wrote this. I cannot find the old thread to give proper credit or attribution

    "Why pentatonic? The notes that are removed are notes that are not common to all 3 scales of the I,IV,V progression. For example if playing in G the chords are G,C,and D. So in the D scale there is a C# whereas G and C have a natural C in their scale. Toss out the C. G and D have F# but C does not, so toss out the F# What remains is the G pentatonic scale. Since it contains only notes that are common to all 3 scales in the progression it contains no sour notes. Given some are sweeter than others but there are no stinkers. In addition the fretboard scale patterns for pentatonics are easy to learn,almost boring, and once you have them you are on your way to the races."

    Joseph Baker

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Maybe a little bit off topic but...

    I was floored decades ago while noodling on guitar and found that the (symphonically thrilling) main theme of "Victory at Sea" used a pentatonic scale!

    (No, I'm not talking about video game music, although the game may use some of the original. "Victory at Sea" in 1952 was, I believe, the first major documentary produced specifically for TV -13 hours-, AND the first time that a major symphonic score was composed specifically for TV.)
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the knowin' of you."
    - Ian Tyson

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Baker View Post
    Since it contains only notes that are common to all 3 scales in the progression it contains no sour notes. Given some are sweeter than others but there are no stinkers.
    Yea its kind of a safe zone, where you can noodle without doing harm.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Although it is true that the way pentatonic scales are mostly used is for their "safety"--- it is also pretty apparent that humans are hard-wired into pentatonic. This video is awesome-- Bobby McFerrin actually "plays" the audience.....

    https://www.ted.com/talks/bobby_mcfe...ain_with_music

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by jshane View Post
    Although it is true that the way pentatonic scales are mostly used is for their "safety"--- it is also pretty apparent that humans are hard-wired into pentatonic. This video is awesome-- Bobby McFerrin actually "plays" the audience.....

    https://www.ted.com/talks/bobby_mcfe...ain_with_music
    A beautiful example!
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  17. #14

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Jeff and Ed - Thank you - Thank you. often times when trying to pick out a tune, I would hear that sour note and think "thats terrible" I've tried to find the sour note while using the pentatonic and you are right. There is none. Get out of my way - I'm flying now..

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    One more thing. There are no sour notes in a key IF you move right on to the next note.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

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  20. #16

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    I created a few free videos for the mandolin.

    Major Pentatonic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTNoL_nmq2Q
    Minor Pentatonic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WenjBKcsOPE
    Blues Scale - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52vNjKIZGLU

    I hope these are useful,
    M

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  22. #17

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    and as related to jshane's post...

    http://calebwcliff.com/2016/ancient-...tatonic-scale/

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by jhowell View Post
    Interesting micro-article! Thanks for sharing this. The video from that article is embedded below.

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Then there is this:

    Having something to say is highly over rated.

    The entire staff
    funny....

  27. #20

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    All the pentatonic scale theory and practice for mandolin that most of us will ever need is laid out in Niles Hokkanen's book "The Pentatonic Mandolin." Some pentatonic scale patterns for mandolin are also presented in "Bluegrass Up The Neck" by the same author. I found both volumes to be extremely helpful-YMMV.

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    I learned this scale the hard way, by self discovery, after years of noodling but I didn't know what it was until a teacher mentioned it and that it would be worth my while to practice it. Oooh, I already knew the basics and now I had a name for it. I then got Nile's book and have since been much more relaxed about stage anxiety. I also discovered that tunes in minor keys could be faked using the relative major of the minor key, keeping in mind the root. Darn I regret not knowing this stuff 30 years ago.
    -Newtonamic

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Nick-
    Pentatonics are fine, but first I'd learn how to play rhythm. Memorize some basic chords
    and find a guitarist to help [if no mandolin players are available]. Playing rhythm is
    a beautiful thing. Try to find the chords to one of your songs online and maybe someone
    in your group can help with the key. Once you learn chords & rhythm it tells you how music is
    structured & how the 'colors and flavors' combine. This will really add to your musicianship.

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    I'm working on pentatonic scales and thought I might revive this thread.

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  34. #24
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy B View Post
    All the pentatonic scale theory and practice for mandolin that most of us will ever need is laid out in Niles Hokkanen's book "The Pentatonic Mandolin." Some pentatonic scale patterns for mandolin are also presented in "Bluegrass Up The Neck" by the same author. I found both volumes to be extremely helpful-YMMV.
    I'm interested in working on pentatonic scale exercises - not from a video, but from written notation. Looks like one of these may be the best resource???

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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Niles' books are some of the best you'll find. Highly recommended!
    Mitch Russell

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