Modes of the Pentatonic scales


This lesson is on the modes of the pentatonic scales.

This is not a first lesson on modes. previous lessons on modes can be found at:
http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/scales/modes1.html
http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/scales/modes2.html
http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/scales/modes3.html

Recall that a scale is a collection of notes within an octave usually not played at the same time. (May 3rd's lesson)

Recall that a step pattern of a scale is the pattern of the notes in the scale (strictly ascending). (May 3rd)

Recall also that we are using numbers to describe notes in relation to the root note ( the letter used in a particular chord/scale/etc.)(May 3rd)

Recall that a pentatonic scale is a scale made up of five distinct notes and their octaves. (Note: C is distinct from D, but C# is not distinct from Db.)

Recall that a major chord is a chord made up of the notes 1,3,5. (May 10th)

A major scale is a scale that contains a major chord built on its root note. In other words, the scale contains 1,3,5.

So, a pentatonic major scale is a scale of five distinct notes with a major chord built on the 1. It is a five note scale with the notes 1,3,5, and any two other distinct notes.

THE pentatonic major scale we are discussing (and everyone else talks about) contains the notes 1,2,3,5,6. Its step pattern is W-W-m3-W-m3. In the key of C, it would be the notes C-D-E-G-A.

Recall that a minor chord is a chord made up of the notes 1,b3,5. (May 31th)

A minor scale is a scale that contains a minor chord built on its root note. In other words, the scale contains 1,b3,5.

So, a pentatonic minor scale is a scale of five distinct notes with a minor chord built on the 1. It is a five note scale with the notes 1,b3,5, and any two other distinct notes.

THE Pentatonic Minor scale we are discussing (and everyone else talks about) contains the notes 1,b3,4,5,b7. It's step pattern is m3-W-W-m3-W. In the key of Am, it would be the notes A-C-D-E-G.

Creating the modes:
One of the first things we can do with the pentatonic major scale is to create modes out of it. Using the step pattern as a template we can create modes by taking the first interval in the step pattern and moving it to the back, and then interpreting these 5 modes using numbers. We then get:

WWm3Wm3 = 1,2,3,5,6
Wm3Wm3W = 1,2,4,5,b7
m3Wm3WW = 1,b3,4,b6,b7
Wm3WWm3 = 1,2,4,5,6
m3WWm3W = 1,b3,4,5,b7

The first mode is our parent scale (the pent.maj. scale), the 2nd mode is sometimes refered to as the egyptian scale, and the 5th mode is commonly called the pentatonic minor scale. (I've yet to see use of the 3rd or 4th modes and refer to them as pent.mode#3 and pent.mode#4.) Although these modes can be seen as having the same notes with an emphasis on different notes, it's better to understand the distinctive flavor that each scale/mode imparts. Try playing through each scale/mode based on the same root note to hear the differences.

pentatonic major = WWm3Wm3
egyptian = Wm3Wm3W
3rd mode of pent.maj. = m3Wm3WW
4th mode of pent.maj. = Wm3WWm3
Pentatonic minor = m3WWm3W

pentatonic major = 1,2,3,5,6
egyptian = 1,2,4,5,b7
3rd mode of pent.maj. = 1,b3,4,b6,b7
4th mode of pent.maj. = 1,2,4,5,6
Pentatonic minor = 1,b3,4,5,b7

Comparing the above scales with the definitions for major scales, minor scales, etc. we see that : the penatonic major scale is a major scale, the pentatonic minor scale is a minor scale, and the remaining 3 scales are neither major nor minor (neither diminished nor augmented). Egyptian and mode #4 could both be considered suspended scales in that they both contain sus2 and sus4 chords built off the root note. The 3rd mode contains a m+ chord built off the root.

Harmonizing Chords from the Pentatonic modes:
Creating chords in the traditional sense of stacking 3rds (tertian harmonization) breaks down with these pentatonic scales. Choices then have to be made to determine how to create chords from the scales. One method, which we'll employ now, would be to pretend that they weren't missing the notes necessary for the notes to be of distances corresponding to the 3rds created by the major scale. Our assumption for the moment will be that we are in fact using that set of scales with missing notes, and label the omitted notes.
we then get:
for the pentatonic major scale:
triads (and dyads): I - II5 - iii(no5) - V5 - vi
7th chords: I - II7(no3) - iii7(no5) - V5 - vi7
9th chords: Iadd9 - II7sus2 - iii7(no5) - Vsus2 - vi7
11th chords: Iadd9 - II11(no3) - iii7/11(no5) - V11(no3,no7) - vi7/11
13th chords: I6/9 - II11(no3) - iii7/11#5 - V13(no3,no7) - vi7/11

A little more satisfactory than than the above is to look at the notes as a set, and create what you can from that set.
Then we find the following chords which could be useful:
I, Isus2, I6, I6/9, Iadd9.
II5, II7(no3), II7sus2, II7sus4, II11(no3).
iii(no5), iii7(no5), iii7#5, iii7/11#5, iii7sus4.
V5, Vsus2, Vsus4, V6/9(no3), V13(no3,no7).
vi, vi7, vi7/11, VIsus4, VI7sus4.

MODES OF THE PENTATONIC MAJOR SCALE

We now consider each mode:

Pentatonic major

Pentatonic major "E-shape"(root note on 6th string)

|---|-1-|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|-2-|---|-3-|---|
|-6-|---|---|-1-|
|-3-|---|---|-5-|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|

Pentatonic major "A-shape"(root note on 5th string)

|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|
|-6-|---|---|-1-|
|-3-|---|---|-5-|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|

I've previously discussed the Pentatonic major scale in detail (see May 24ths lesson). The Pentatonic scale is heard in many different cultures around the world, in musics as diverse as scottish and chinese. Its step pattern is W-W-m3-W-m3. We can represent its intervals as 1,2,3,5,6. we can see it is a major scale (contains the notes 1,3,5). With the root note on C, it is the notes C-D-E-G-A-C.Some also lists the pentatonic major scale as .

We associate the following chords with the pentatonic major scale:
triads (and dyads): I - II5 - iii(no5) - V5 - vi
7th chords: I - II7(no3) - iii7(no5) - V5 - vi7
9th chords: Iadd9 - II7sus2 - iii7(no5) - Vsus2 - vi7
11th chords: Iadd9 - II11(no3) - iii7/11(no5) - V11(no3,no7) - vi7/11
13th chords: I6/9 - II11(no3) - iii7/11#5 - V13(no3,no7) - vi7/11

and:
I, Isus2, I6, I6/9, Iadd9.
II5, II7(no3), II7sus2, II7sus4, II11(no3).
iii(no5), iii7(no5), iii7#5, iii7/11#5, iii7sus4.
V5, Vsus2, Vsus4, V6/9(no3), V13(no3,no7).
vi, vi7, vi7/11, VIsus4, VI7sus4.

We can create progressions from these chords. we should include the I chord, and it should be the chord which the progression wants to resolve to (this is true of all modal progressions, replacing I with the appropriate one chord).

EGYPTIAN (1,2,4,5,b7)

Egyptian "E-shape"(root note on 6th string)

|---|-1-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|-2-|---|---|-4-|---|
|---|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|---|

Egyptian "A-shape"(root note on 5th string)

|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|-2-|---|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-1-|---|-2-|---|
|-5-|---|---|b7-|

Its step pattern is W-m3-W-m3-W. We can represent its intervals as 1,2,4,5,b7. we can see it is a suspended scale (contains the notes 1,2,4,5 and no 3). With the root note on D, it is the notes D-E-G-A-C-D. Some also lists the egyptian scale as the 2nd mode of the pentatonic major scale. It should be noted that there is a definite lack of evidence to suggest that this scale has anything to do with egyptian music whatsoever. Players interested in Egyptian music would be better off doing a search on the term "maqam" and/or "maqamat".

We associate the following chords with the egyptian scale:
triads (and dyads): I5 - ii(no5) - IV5 - v - bVII
7th chords: I7(no3) - ii7(no5) - IV5 - v7 - bVII
9th chords: I7sus2 - ii7(no5) - IVsus2 - v7 - bVIIadd9
11th chords: I11(no3) - ii7/11(no5) - IV11(no3,no7) - v7/11 - bVIIadd9
13th chords: I11(no3) - ii7/11#5 - IV13(no3,no7) - v7/11 - bVII6/9

and:
I5, I7(no3), I7sus2, I7sus4, I11(no3).
ii(no5), ii7(no5), ii7#5, ii7/11#5, ii7sus4.
IV5, IVsus2, IVsus4, IV6/9(no3), IV13(no3,no7).
v, v7, v7/11, Vsus4, V7sus4.
bVII, bVIIsus2, bVII6, bVII6/9, bVIIadd9.

We can create progressions from these chords. we should include the I chord, and it should be the chord which the progression wants to resolve to.

3rd mode of Pent.maj. (1,b3,4,b6,b7)

3rd mode of Pent.maj. "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|---|b6-|---|b7-|
|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|---|b6-|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|

3rd mode of Pent.maj. "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|---|b6-|---|b7-|
|---|b3-|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|---|b6-|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|---|b6-|---|b7-|

Its step pattern is m3-W-m3-W-W. We can represent its intervals as 1,b3,4,b6,b7. we might see it is a minor#5 scale (contains the notes 1,b3,#5). With the root note on E, it is the notes E-G-A-C-D-E.

We associate the following chords with the 3rd mode of the pent.maj. scale:
triads (and dyads): i(no5) - bIII5 - iv - bVI - bVII5
7th chords: i7(no5) - bIII5 - iv7 - bVI - bVII7(no3)
9th chords: i7(no5) - bIIIsus2 - iv7 - bVIadd9 - bVII7sus2
11th chords: i7/11(no5) - bIII11(no3,no7) - iv7/11 - bVIadd9 - bVII11(no3)
13th chords: i7/11#5 - bIII13(no3,no7) - iv7/11 - bVI6/9 - bVII11(no3)

and:
i(no5), i7(no5), i7#5, i7/11#5, i7sus4.
bIII5, bIIIsus2, bIIIsus4, bIII6/9(no3), bIII13(no3,no7).
iv, iv7, iv7/11, IVsus4, IV7sus4.
bVI, bVIsus2, bVI6, bVI6/9, bVIadd9.
bVII5, bVII7(no3), bVII7sus2, bVII7sus4, bVII11(no3).

We can create progressions from these chords. we should include the i chord, and it should be the chord which the progression wants to resolve to.

4th mode of pent.maj. (1,2,4,5,6)

4th mode of pent.maj. "E-shape"(root note on 6th string)

|---|-1-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|---|---|-4-|---|
|-6-|---|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|---|

4th mode of pent.maj. "A-shape"(root note on 5th string)

|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|---|-4-|
|-6-|---|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|

Its step pattern is W-m3-W-W-m3. We can represent its intervals as 1,2,4,5,6. we can see it is a suspended scale (contains the notes 1,2,4,5 and no 3). With the root note on G, it is the notes G-A-C-D-E-G.

We associate the following chords with the 4th mode of the pent.maj. scale:
triads (and dyads): I5 - ii - IV - V5 - vi(no5)
7th chords: I5 - ii7 - IV - V7(no3) - vi7(no5)
9th chords: Isus2 - ii7 - IVadd9 - V7sus2 - vi7(no5)
11th chords: I11(no3,no7) - ii7/11 - IVadd9 - V11(no3) - vi7/11(no5)
13th chords: I13(no3,no7) - ii7/11 - IV6/9 - V11(no3) - vi7/11#5

and:
I5, Isus2, Isus4, I6/9(no3), I13(no3,no7).
ii, ii7, ii7/11, IIsus4, II7sus4.
IV, IVsus2, IV6, IV6/9, IVadd9.
V5, V7(no3), V7sus2, V7sus4, V11(no3).
vi(no5), vi7(no5), vi7#5, vi7/11#5, vi7sus4.

We can create progressions from these chords. we should include the I chord, and it should be the chord which the progression wants to resolve to.

Pentatonic Minor

Pentatonic minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|

Pentatonic minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|---|b3-|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|-5-|---|---|b7-|

Its step pattern is m3-W-W-m3-W. We can represent its intervals as 1,b3,4,5,b7. we can see it is a minor scale (contains the notes 1,b3,5). With the root note on A, it is the notes A-C-D-E-G-A.

We associate the following chords with the pentatonic minor scale:
triads (and dyads): i - bIII - IV5 - v(no5) - bVII5
7th chords: i7 - bIII - IV7(no3) - v7(no5) - bVII5
9th chords: i7 - bIIIadd9 - IV7sus2 - v7(no5) - bVIIsus2
11th chords: i7/11 - bIIIadd9 - IV11(no3) - v7/11(no5) - bVII11(no3,no7)
13th chords: i7/11 - bIII6/9 - IV11(no3) - v7/11#5 - bVII13(no3,no7)

and:
i, i7, i7/11, Isus4, I7sus4.
bIII, bIIIsus2, bIII6, bIII6/9, bIIIadd9.
IV5, IV7(no3), IV7sus2, IV7sus4, IV11(no3).
v(no5), v7(no5), v7#5, v7/11#5, v7sus4.
bVII5, bVIIsus2, bVIIsus4, bVII6/9(no3), bVII13(no3,no7).

We can create progressions from these chords. We should include the i chord, and it should be the chord which the progression wants to resolve to.


Some thoughts on progressions, playing inside, thinking outside.

Consider the Egyptian scale (1,2,4,5,b7), the 2nd mode of the pentatonic major scale.

First, we could create a progressiosn from the available chords.

We associate the following chords with the egyptian scale:
triads (and dyads): I5 - ii(no5) - IV5 - v - bVII
7th chords: I7(no3) - ii7(no5) - IV5 - v7 - bVII
and:
I5, I7(no3), I7sus2, I7sus4, I11(no3).
ii(no5), ii7(no5), ii7#5, ii7/11#5, ii7sus4.
IV5, IVsus2, IVsus4, IV6/9(no3), IV13(no3,no7).
v, v7, v7/11, Vsus4, V7sus4.
bVII, bVIIsus2, bVII6, bVII6/9, bVIIadd9.

So we could pick a progression like:
ii7sus4 - v7/11 - I7sus4
which we could then play I-Egyptian over.

However, we want to consider some possible inside/outside approaches.

Consider the Egyptian scale not as a scale in itself , but rather as a fragment of another scale, say the dorian scale (many people would look at it this way).
The Egyptian scale (1,2,4,5,b7) could be used in place of:
Dorian (1,2,b3,4,5,6,b7)
Mixolydian (1,2,3,4,5,6,b7)
Aeolian (1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7)
All 4 scales occur a whole step above a major scale. So one use could be to play the scale a whole step above any major chord. In the major key/minor key system this works well. But in other contexts, it might not work as well.

The Egyptian scale actually contains the major chord built off the b7 note which is what we previously saw.

Consider the melodic minor scale and it's modes -
If played a W step above the IV there is no contradiction with the hindu scale found there (Hindu = 1,2,3,4,5,b6,b7), but if played a W step above the V chord then there is a clash between some notes, and part of our scale is outside of the notes normally occuring on the chords/scale built off the vio (locrian nat 2 = 1,2,b3,4,b5,b6,b7). This outside note (the 5) may or not work depending on how it is used.

If we look at the Spanish major scale (5th mode of the harmonic minor scale) , and try analyzing the Egyptian scale against the Lydian #9 scale we get...
(intervals written as if modes of the Spanish major scale)
I-Spanish Major = 1,b2,3,4,5,b6,b7
bII-Lydian #9 = b2,3,4,5,b6,b7,1
II-Egyptian = 2,3,5,6,1
So, here we find 2 notes outside of the scale. One of them adds a chromatic step inbetween 2 notes. Since 2 out of 5 notes are outside this may prove more challenging to use.

So playing the II-Egyptian scale over any I-major chord will sometimes work and sometimes not. It is one way in which we can use pentatonic modes begin playing with outside ideas.

Experiment, and let your ears be the judge as to whether it can work for you or not.

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart members.aol.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

Any questions? Feel free to ask.

Peace,
Christopher Roberts
snglstringtheory@aol.com


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Last updated January 2, 2003
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