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Thread: Where does the Pentatonic scale come from?

  1. #16
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    Pentatonic scale is the most natural set of notes - a stack of fifths that blend freely with one another. Stack another fifth and you have a dissonant Major Seventh..stack another and you have a dissonant Augmented Fourth (the regular seven note scales have two half-step tensions and a tritone)... so I imagine that the major pentatonic would have been the easiest scale form to stumble upon pre-music.

    The reason it sounds so good is because of its consonance. You cannot go wrong harmonically with a pentatonic scale. Its simple, large steps are pleasing and predictable. This is perhaps why it works so well in a dissonant bluesy setting with clashing thirds.

    One thing I've always wondered - if you take any major scale, the 5 excluded notes from the chromatic scale make up a minor pentatonic from the Minor Third or a major pentatonic from the Augmented Fourth...most visually obvious as the distinction between white and black keys on a piano. Is this coincidence or the product of some obvious pattern? It seems like it must be obvious but I really cant think how this pattern works! ..any ideas?
    It's just a pattern. Patterns don't have to mean anything...

    It's the major pent of the tritone from the tonic, if that helps. (Opposite in the circle of 5ths.)
    IOW, C major pent on the white notes, F#/Gb major pent on the black. The remaining notes (F/E# and B/Cb) are the semitones that complete the respective "opposite" major scales. (Or A minor pent and D#/Eb minor pent if you want the minors.)

    IOW, it's not coincidence, but it's not particularly a highly revealing secret either. It's a natural result of the major scale structure.
    (You might as well say it's "coincidence" that the C-F tetrachord of the major scale has the same structure as the G-C tetrachord... That's the way it's designed, because that's the way it works.)

  2. #17
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    I'm sure it's been mentioned, but maybe not in this way...

    I always thought of the Pentatonic scales as being skeletons or common notes of the Major and Minor Modes.

    Take all the Major Diatonic Modes...

    Ionian - R 2 M3 4 5 6 M7 R
    Lydian - R 2 M3 #4 5 6 M7 R
    Mixolydian - R 2 M3 4 5 6 b7 R

    This leaves R 2 M3 5 6 as being common between all of them, and it gives us the Intervals for the Major Pentatonic scale.

    Take the Minor Modes...

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

    This leaves R b3 4 5 b7 as being common between all of them, and it gives us the Intervals for the Minor Pentatonic scale.

    What about Locrian you might ask...

    Locrian gives us the b5 (enharmonic to the #4) meaning...

    The "skeleton" of Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, AND Lorcian is the Blues scale.

  3. #18
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    I agree with everything that was written in this thread. Pentatonics have the property of having a particularly consonant harmony within themselves. There are no really dissonant intervals in it and thus not serious harmonic mistakes one can make accidentally, a thing that proves as a disadvantage if you want tension in music and thus intentional, musical dissonance.

    My contribution to this thread would be the way I like to implement pentatonics as melody/soloing devices rather than the harmony derived by them which is limited. So I could use the IV chord with the I major pentatonic ,for example, and it sounds neat. Another thing is while there are 5 pentatonic modes we tend to think that only the major and minor are usable and the other three weak, but that's not the case.

    For instance, I have heard much balkan folk music with clarinets that uses the dorian pentatonic (T-m3-T-m3-T) wich is a very cool scale, almost neutral, that happens to be the easiest scale in guitar as well. Also the intro & verse of the song 'Broken wings' is solely based, both its fifths harmony and sang melody, on it. And is memorable if you ask me.
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 12-04-2008 at 08:57 PM.

  4. #19
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    It's just a pattern. Patterns don't have to mean anything...
    Yea i'm sure it doesn't mean or reveal anything, I just sense the underlying structure but can't get my head around how it works/looks! It's not surprising that the notes which aren't part of a major scale make up part of the polar opposite key, I just find it surprisingly neat how those notes are the pentatonic of the opposite key - the opposing stack of fifths making up the shells of the opposing mode spectrums. This of course doesn't mean anything really, it's a pattern (perhaps coincidental that 12=7+5 and chromatic scale=key+opposing pentatonic). I just wonder if there is any way to represent this pattern somehow, visually or something...Hmm, I'm probably on my own on that one!

  5. #20
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    ^Concerning that matter it immediately came to mind the golden ratio. And certainly that relationship does not fall to it. But it is of interest the fact that both scales have a prime number of notes and intervals. Also there is this fascinating tritone relationshoship going on between the major/minor scales and major/minor pentatonics. As JonR mentioned for the C major scale there is a Gb major pentatonic 'filling' the gaps as well as the Eb minor pentatonic for the A natural minor scale, again a tritone apart.This proves to be a 'static' structure because if you then choose to make those pentatonics into diatonic scales as you see the roles are exchanged. If you are familiar with the black hole gravitational singularity I think the musical equivalent is it.
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 12-05-2008 at 06:22 PM.

  6. #21
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    Twelve note scale...

    Quote Originally Posted by the1andonly View Post
    actually, about the curtual thing and conditioning, that's true to an extent, but if you ask me (and a lot of music theorists) the 12 note system is the 'perfect' system. notes have overtones, and the first over tone with the strongest consonance is the fifth. you if you find the overtone of an overtone of an overtone, etc, you get 12 notes before it repeats, which is where we get our 12-note system. I'm pretty sure it's the most widely used system in the world.
    Actually you never repeat. You just come close, and the guys that gave us the 12-note scale decided it was close enough. The problem is that no power of 1.5 (the ratio of a perfect fifth's frequency to its root) is ever equal to a power of two (an octave boundary). Someone just noticed that the 12th power of 1.5 is awfully close to the 7th power of 2, and said "Hey, let's just try 12 notes with equal frequency ratios one to the next, such that the 13th note is the octave of the first note."

    So G is actually NOT a perfect fifth of C; it's a hair flat. This 12-notes-to-an-octave scale is called an "equal temperament" scale.

    But the bit about how no power of 1.5 is equal to a power of two is a math fact - it can be shown that you will never, ever, ever come to an exact octave as you go up by mathematically perfect fifths.

    What makes it work is that the 12 notes that result are close enough for our minds to "buy them."

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by KipIngram View Post
    Actually you never repeat. You just come close, and the guys that gave us the 12-note scale decided it was close enough. The problem is that no power of 1.5 (the ratio of a perfect fifth's frequency to its root) is ever equal to a power of two (an octave boundary). Someone just noticed that the 12th power of 1.5 is awfully close to the 7th power of 2, and said "Hey, let's just try 12 notes with equal frequency ratios one to the next, such that the 13th note is the octave of the first note."

    So G is actually NOT a perfect fifth of C; it's a hair flat. This 12-notes-to-an-octave scale is called an "equal temperament" scale.

    But the bit about how no power of 1.5 is equal to a power of two is a math fact - it can be shown that you will never, ever, ever come to an exact octave as you go up by mathematically perfect fifths.

    What makes it work is that the 12 notes that result are close enough for our minds to "buy them."
    Pretty old thread!

    I agree with what you're saying. Same thing with other ratios. 3rds and Blue notes aren't the same as 5ths or octaves.
    Last edited by Ken Valentino 2; 07-26-2017 at 05:23 PM.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Valentino 2 View Post
    Pretty old thread!

    I agree with what you're saying. Same thing with other ratios. 3rds and Blue notes aren't the same as 5ths or octaves.
    Right. None of them line up perfectly, for the same reason mentioned above. But, wondrously, the 12-note equal temperament gets us close enough to all of it to do some wonderful things. :-)

  9. #24
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    Pentatonic scales contain five notes, thats why it gets its name (Penta=5, tonic = tones). There are two type of pentatonic: (a) major pentatonic scale (b) minor pentatonic scale.



  10. #25
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    There are actually a whole lot more than just two pentatonic scales - see this really thorough article for more:

    http://antonjazz.com/2016/01/pentato...#comment-21710

    That guy makes it very, very clear where it all comes from, using the circle of fifths.

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