Pentatonic scale

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As a pentatonic ( Greek πεντα- penta- , German , five ' ) or Fünfton- music refers to scales and sound systems , the various five tones exist.

One differentiates:

  • hemitonic five- tone scales with semitone steps
  • anhemitonic five-tone scales without semitones.

Five-tone scales have been used since around 3000 BC. BC - presumably originating in Mesopotamia  - the music of many indigenous peoples of Asia , Africa , America and early Europe . They are also considered to be the forerunners of the European heptatonic scale, which originated in Greece .

Hemitonic pentatonic scale

The hemitonic pentatonic scale contains semitone steps as an essential feature. Examples:

Five-tone system Pitch levels correspond to the tones ...
[semitones bold]
Icelandic chants E, F , A, H, C of a C major scale
Japanese pentatonic scale ascending: C, Des , F, G, B
descending: C, As, G , F, Des, each with a scale based on C.
Indian pentatonic scale C, E, F , G, B of a scale based on C.
Javanese slendro
Indonesian pélog ~ C, Des , Es, G, As

Anhemitonic pentatonic scale

C major pentatonic scale.svg
Anhemitonic scales do not contain semitones. Their tone sequence upwards corresponds to the tones C, D, E, G, A of a C major scale, i.e. the intervals of whole tone , whole tone, minor third , whole tone. The two semitones E to F and B to C are missing, so that there are no small seconds , tritoni or major sevenths . This means that there is no lead tone effect in the scale melody. As each scale tone harmonizes with each other, their overall sound is easily tangible to the ear, although their tonal center is ambiguous.

This scale was in China already in ancient times from the stratification of four fifths derived whose tones in the same octave were transposed. It was formed on twelve different pitches at semitone intervals. Each of the twelve basic tone levels has five modes ( inversions of the tone sequence), so that a total of 60 different pentatonic scales result (see Chinese scales ).


These modes are integrated into the major-minor tone system in European tonality . Classical harmony theory considers the major pentatonic scale (line 1) as the starting point, the minor pentatonic scale (line 5) as a derived parallel that begins with the fifth note of the major version or a minor third below its root note. The remaining inversions of these five tones (lines 2-4) are not considered equivalent modes.

The following graphic assigns the pitches of a pentatonic scale to a chromatic scale and thus illustrates their interval structure. Each box stands for one of the twelve tone levels that follow one another in semitone steps. The marked and numbered tones belong to the major mode (left box tower) or minor mode (right box tower) of the pentatonic scale.

Interval diagram pentatonic major.svg Interval diagram pentatonic minor.svg

Role in music fields

Nursery rhymes

Many children's songs are based on the pentatonic scale. The simplest of these consist of a two-tone formula, the so-called cuckoo or shout third : for example cuckoo, egg swallow (notated with notes from C major: GEGGE). Three-tone formulas also contain the second above the call third , such as the beginning of cheek, backe, cake (GGAAGE) and lantern, lantern, sun, moon and stars (AGE, AGE, GGAAGE) and its end ... but my dear lantern not (GGGGAAAGGE). Both songs also contain the keynote of the major pentatonic scale, with which fifths and triads can be formed: The baker has called (CGGAAGE); burn on my light ... (CEGGE). Five-tone formulas contain all five tones of a pentatonic, such as Old Mac Donald had a farm, hea hea ho! (CCCGAAG, EEDDC).

The advertising makes use of the catchiness and easy noticeability of pentatonic melodies that are modeled on children's songs: Haribo , for example, makes children happy and adults too (GGEAGGE, GGAAGGE).

Otherwise diatonic children's and folk songs often contain pentatonic parts or phrases, such as the A part of Oh Susanna (CDEGGAGECDEEDCD). This is why some music historians assume that the pentatonic scale was the nucleus of melodic music in general.

Music education

Various designs and methods of music education are based on the simplicity and suitability for children of pentatonic music .

In the anthroposophical Waldorf pedagogy , which has been in existence since 1919, pentatonic songs and instruments (such as choroi flutes and children's harps ) play a role in kindergarten and school. Characteristic is a pentatonic scale d'-e'-g'-a'-h'-d '' - e '' that transcends the octave, as a double fifth space around a central note a ', which is why the term is often used in Waldorf music education "Tuning of the fifths" is used.

In the 20th century, Carl Orff developed his own set of instruments for children for pentatonic improvisation and a corresponding repertoire: including the playbook for xylophone. Based on this, the Belgian Lucy Gelber developed a corresponding system in the 1970s. In a large-scale study she came to the conclusion that understanding of intervals “crystallizes” in children. You could identify and intone root notes first, then fifths, then major seconds. Little by little, the child's sense of melody develops up to the major pentatonic scale.

A group of two and three of the black keys on a keyboard together form a pentatonic scale. Some piano schools , such as that of Peter Heilbut , begin with improvisation tasks only on black keys in order to give beginners easy playful access and a simple understanding of the melody.

Pentatonic scale is also used in music therapy.

Folk music

Pentatonic scales can be found in singing, songs and intonation of musical instruments from many peoples of Africa, America, Asia and Europe, including:

and many others.

Pentatonic tuned instruments are also very common, such as:

European art music

In European art music , pentatonic was not specifically addressed for a long time, but was considered and used as an integral part of the traditional heptatonic church modes . It influenced some old chorale melodies , but has largely receded since the major-minor tonality was established.

Only in the course of the newly awakened interest in folk music, non-European and archaic music in the age of Romanticism was pentatonic considered as a separate sound material with special sound characteristics. Composers adopted or imitated pentatonic themes from the folk music of their nation or foreign peoples. Examples are:

Others used the pentatonic as a sound effect to complement, alienate or enrich an otherwise major-minor harmonic , for example in:

In so-called Impressionism and with some composers of the 20th century, pentatonic scales are also considered as a separate form of tonality that determines entire pieces or work passages. Examples:

The contemporary composer Lou Harrison used new pentatonic scales in some of his works.

Gospel and blues

Major pentatonic scales determine some gospels in North America, such as the African American Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and the Scottish or Irish Amazing Grace .

The speech melody of West African peoples is similar to the minor pentatonic scale on which the blue scale is based. This also contains a flatted fifth (diminished fifth), which connects the identical halves of the scale (from below: minor third, whole step) with a chromatic semitone step. The blue scale occurs in almost all forms of modern rock , pop and jazz music .

Rock and pop

Since pentatonic melodies are easy to find and play on a guitar , beginners often learn them first. Since there are no potential tension tones, the pentatonic scale is also well suited for improvisation. Famous guitar solos, such as those from the Guns-N'-Roses cover version of Knockin 'on Heaven's Door , use pentatonic material. The title theme of the song Perfect Strangers (from the album of the same name " Perfect Strangers ") by Deep Purple is a fine example of pure minor pentatonic scales.


Major or minor pentatonic scales partly shape the themes of some jazz standards : for example Afro Blue , Mercy, Mercy, Mercy , Summertime , Take Five and Watermelon Man . On the other hand, it is used in jazz improvisation to “ not lose the connection to consonance despite atonal or dissonant sound material ”. In John Coltrane's Giant Steps, for example, she helps to balance out the complex and rapidly changing harmonics with simple melodies and to make the connection between the distantly related cadence sounds more audible.

In today's jazz harmonics, several pentatonic scales are assigned to each chord, the tones of which can be used to improvise. You can z. For example , play a C, G or even D major pentatonic over the chord C 6 / maj9 (C, E, G, A and D) and thereby emphasize different additional notes to the C major triad. This also helps to avoid so-called avoid notes (forbidden tones from the heptatonic scale belonging to the chord, here: F) in improvisation. The key C, which is missing in the G and D major pentatonic scales, is seen as an advantage, as it creates more tension and timbres in relation to the bass and accompanying chord. Purposely dissonant pentatonic scales - for example D-Eb-F-A flat-Bb over C major - are used (out) because the melody remains comprehensible due to the simple interval sequences and the dissonance is easily restored by moving it down a semitone can be resolved.

In modern jazz, a dominant seventh chord is often enhanced with additional notes (options) above the seventh when accompanying ( comping ) . In order to improvise appropriately, to communicate with the harmony giver and to help determine his chord choice, jazz musicians have lowered ("altered") individual pitches of the major pentatonic by a semitone and thus created new, artificial pentatonic modes. So you can use a C-7 chord (C, E, G, Bb) with the pentatonic scale C major bII (C, Db, E, G, A), E flat major bII (Es, E, G , Be, C), G flat major bII (G flat, G, Be, Db, Eb) or A major bII (A, Be, C sharp, E, F sharp) and D major bVI (D, E, F sharp, A, B flat) or A flat major bVI (A flat, B flat, C, E flat, E) improvise and thus emphasize different possible additional notes to the C-7 chord.

Guitar fingering

Pentatonic Guitar.png

See also

Wikibooks: Guitar: Scales and Patterns  - Learning and teaching materials

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hermann Grabner: Allgemeine Musiklehre , p. 90
  2. ^ Frank Haunschild : Die neue Harmonielehre , Volume 1, AMA Verlag, Brühl 1997, ISBN 978-3-927190-00-9 , p. 110
  3. Hermann Grabner: Allgemeine Musiklehre p. 91
  4. Frank Sikora : New Jazz Harmonielehre , p. 27
  5. ^ Frank Haunschild: Die neue Harmonielehre Volume 1, p. 106
  6. ^ Volker Dillmann: Pentatonic. Free Spiritual Life Publishing House, 1994, ISBN 3-7725-1385-9 ; Stephan Ronner: Practical Book of Music Lessons: A Guide to Music Education at Waldorf Schools. Free Spiritual Life Publishing House, 2005, ISBN 3-7725-1694-7 .
  7. Julius Knierim : Songs of the fifths . 9th edition. Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-7725-1314-5 .
  8. ^ Carl Orff: Spielbuch for xylophone. In pentatonic space for one player. (1965) Editor: Gunild Keetmann, Orff-Schulwerk, B. Schott, Registration Number RE0000634720, 1993; Volume II: RE0000681450, 1994.
  9. ^ Lucy Gelber: Musical readiness of school beginners. H. Dunantlaan, Rijksuniversiteit Gent, Seminarie en Laboratorium voor Experimentele, Psychologische en Sociale Pedagogiek (Ed.): Mededelingen . 1984 (English).
  10. A list of pentatonic-influenced compositions from 1700 to 1950 is provided by Jeremy Day-O'Connell: Pentatonicism from the Eighteenth Century to Debussy . 1st edition. University of Rochester Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-58046-248-8 ; Synopsis (English)
  11. Bernd Kofler: Perfect Guitar - The Pentatonic Workbook. Books on Demand GmbH, 2002, ISBN 3-8311-3111-2
  12. ^ Frank Haunschild: Die neue Harmonielehre Volume 1, p. 107
  13. Mark Levine: Das Jazzpiano Buch , p. 123
  14. Frank Haunschild: The new theory of harmony p. 108
  15. ^ Frank Haunschild: The new theory of harmony p. 109