Mandolin pentatonic scales

Mandolin pentatonic scales DEFAULT

Sins of the Pentatonic

We're known for being hard on the Pentatonic Scale, and that assumption might be a tad unjust. The five simple notes aren't what we object too; after all, contained within the set is the harmonic center of root and third, along with the benign pitches of two and six, and of course, neutral chord member number five. There's some great harmonic "training" in these scales.

That said, we liken their abuse to the father of a four-year old who fastens training wheels on his son's bike, and leaves them there through High School. There's tremendous potential for use in jazz but if and only if you're willing to 1.) take them out of the key or 2.) use them to express upper chord harmonic extensions. We went over this in a previous tip, Jazzed Pentatonic, and to review as an example, if your harmonic background chord is CMaj7(+11), you can use a D Major Pentatonic to convey the B D F# implied in this chord extension.

Another problem is the horizontal abuse of the Pentatonic, the failure to jump around constructively, to weave, bob, and introduce melodic creativity; in other words, you need to avoid sounding like your playing, well... scales! We want to propose an alternative to this potential stagnancy with a terrific drill in yet another installment of our FFcP approach, FFcP Pentatonic Studies.

Depending on your perspective, these are chop builders or chop busters, but they give you a whole new way to intuitively build melodic freshness and inspire. You'll struggle somewhat with the challenge of smooth, continuous line, especially in string crossing (go pinky!), but time spent on these will again be a worthy investment.

These measures as we develop in the entire 48 measure exercise are fertile, both physically stimulating and intellectually inspiring. Don't just play them straight down. Master each individual measure, moving on only when they are infused into your fingers, rich with tone and dare we say "musical."

First 4 measure excerpt:
PentFFcP1.jpg

Notice they move in minor thirds. (Relative minor/major relationship?) Notice the exercise uses all four of the FFcP positions. The succeeding measures, we'll break the monotony of stepwise movements with skips, turns and contrary motion. We start on different scale degrees, and though the intent is to mix you up well, take advantage of Pentatonic simplicity to think observe which scale degree the pattern starts with and where it goes.

You'll cover four of the twelve keys, A C Eb F#. Move the entire exercise up one fret and you've addressed another 1/3 of them Bb Db E G. Go up yet another fret B D F Ab and you've mastered all twelve keys in one octave.

Here's another trick. Play the first measure in each line consecutively (1, 5, 9, 13, etc.). Play the second in the same way (2, 6, 10,14, 18, etc.). You'll really develop some physical flexibility.

PentFFcP2.jpg

Tritone subs? You've probably heard about this before; notice 1st and 3rd of each 4 measure set are a diminished 5th or a tritone away, same with the 2nd and 4th. Here's a chance to use the Pentatonics for either some very outside melodic fodder in the same tonal center, or express the tritone substitution in a dominant function, play chords I, V7, I, V7, etc.

PentFFcP3.jpg

We shouldn't have to remind you, but we don't want you to lose tone. As we mentioned, the string crossing may seem to kill your 3rd and 4th fingers, but these combinations mastered will lend you incredible dexterity later in improvising. You'll be open to a whole new world of finger combinations across the fretboard.

When you really get good, play these in the upper frets, too. Next time you hear a really good professional jazz guitar player, see how many times you hear material discreetly taken from the Pentatonic scale. It may be well-disguised in rapidly shifting tonal centers, but guaranteed, it will be there more than you think!

PentFFcP4.jpg

Enjoy!

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The pentatonic scale is must-know for any mandolin player looking to improve their soloing chops on the instrument. This tab will show you how the G pentatonic scale lays on the mandolin fretboard and give you two licks based on the scale to use fragments of or as endings for fiddle tunes in the key of G.

A couple tips for learning and practicing this:

  1. The pentatonic scale is a five note scale pattern. If you’re having trouble learning the entire scale in one go, split it up into sections of five or six notes.
  2. Whenever you’re learning a scale practice it starting from different notes in the scale or using different note combinations rather than just playing it ascending and descending. You’ll hear this scale a ton in bluegrass but it’s rare that someone will play it up and down. It’s important to practice variations of the scale. This could be melodic or rhythmic variation and the two licks in the tab may give you some ideas on how to do this on your own.
  3. As always, go slow. This will let your fingers better communicate with your mind (and vice versa) so you can commit it to memory faster and start actually using it in your solos.
  4. Pay attention to how this scale sounds and try to figure it out on your own in the keys of C, D, and E. This is a great ear training exercise and it’s an amazing way to learn about your fretboard.

Here’s the tab so you can get cracking:

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The framework for all music is built from scales. From them, chords are formed, keys are established, licks are plucked. The possible scales, combinations of notes, stretches on relentlessly on. That’s why there’s no end in sight for new music to be composed.

Each culture has their own scales, and these scales give the culture’s tunes their specific accent. Japanese hōgaku music is built from a different scale than Czechoslovakian polka.

Scales evoke emotion. Minor scales are serious and impassioned. Locrian is ambiguous. These provocations are what turn noise to music. It’s why we play mandolin.

Thankfully, scales are like the color wheel. The choices are cosmic, but you can get by fine only knowing a few. In this lesson we’ll discover the red, yellow, green, and blue of scales. These are the scales which, with only the limit of your imagination, and following a few rules, you’ll be able to play along to just about anything.

Note:

We’re going to be focusing on the key of D for these scales. The tabs will be provided for that key. To try them out in other keys, the internet beyond is a fantastic resource.

Pentatonic

Here’s the vanilla ice cream of scales – not to say it’s boring! It’s a magical scale. Just play in time, and with the correct key, and everything you pluck will sound pure and reasonable. It goes with everything.

It’s easy to figure out the notes of the pentatonic scale by examining the circle of fifths. Pick the note that the key is in, for instance C: C, D, E, G, A. G’s pentatonic scale is G, A, B, D, E. Do you see the pattern? You may do this for all the rest of the notes too to find the pentatonic.

Here are the tabs for the D pentatonic:

Play through this, it is the first full pentatonic scale on your mandolin’s neck.

The notes above show all of the D pentatonic notes on the first position of your neck. This means that all these notes are fair game to use in a song that is in the key of D.

Pluck through that a few times. Now, pull up the song in How to Play Melody Between Chords. Try making up some riffs – basically as long as you stay in time and use only the notes in the scale above you’ll sound great!

The pentatonic scale is the most simple of scales. But with creativity you’ll be able to string these notes together in new and inventive ways.

Think about how all of the notes of the pentatonic scale blend so well into any song. What does that mean? The emotion behind the scale is plain. Sure, it’ll sound great almost all of the time. You won’t have to worry about any notes sounding out of place. But in order to take your solos and licks to the next level, you’ll have to let in some dissonance. That’s what we’ll explore in the next scales.

Blues

Blues, what better hamlet to explore the sensitivity of music. This is a fantastic scale to have in your back pocket. It has an additional note that’s not typically found in the standard key of the song. The one additional note is, essentially, the blues of the blues scale.

Here is the blues scale in D:

Not every song is home for the blues scale, in fact most are not. It is a scale to use diplomatically. Applied reasonably, it is sure to pleasantly nudge ears off balance; impassive audience’s attention regained.

Major

The major scale, identical to the Ionian mode, is the Sound of Music scale:

Seven unique notes and an octave for repetition. The notes that don’t also fall into the pentatonic scale give this scale density. It’s only two extra notes than the pentatonic, but that’s 30 precent more. Much more sound to work with.

Here is the D major scale:

Go up and down the scale, slowly.

After you begin to memorize the pattern, try mixing it up as you did with the pentatonic. Notice how the additional notes sound. They won’t be as discordant as the blues scale’s added note, but there is some more tension.

This will be made more noticeable as you use to to play along to music. Turn again to the song in How to Play Melody Between Chords, or the other D major backing track on this page. Play a few riffs using the major scale, then only the notes of the pentatonic. Use the notes of the blues scale, then back to the major. Listen to how they all work, but have their own distinct flavor. This is the flavor that you’re providing the song.

Natural Minor

The natural minor or Aeolian Mode, is the same notes as the major scale, but the emphasis is on the relative minor. Check out this post to figure out a key’s relative minor. If you already know, let’s continue on.

What is meant by emphasis is where a scale resolves; where the tension is eased. For the purposes of the scale, the tension will build from the beginning and resolve with the final note an octave up. However, when you’re improvising with the scale, you’ll find your own ways to build tension and find resolution.

The relative minor for D is B. So, B natural minor is the scale we’ll use.

Do you notice the difference? It’s very interesting how even though both the major scale and natural minor have the same exact notes, the emotions they emit contrast so vastly.

I think of it similar to this optical illusion above. The blocks seem like two shades of grey, right? Well, hold a pen or your finger between where the squares meet. How do the colors look now?

Harmonic Minor

This scale brings about a much more minor feeling than the natural minor does. This is because, compared to the natural minor, the note before the root note is brought up a half step.

With the B harmonic minor scale, this means that the A notes in the natural minor scale become A#s.

Try the notes of the scale over this backing track:


Take care memorizing these scale patterns, and you’ll be able to do so much with your mandolin. When it’s your time to solo, all you’ll need to do is play notes that fit within those scales and you’ll sound great.

Pentatonic is the safest scale. So if you find yourself riffing in some very strange territory with one of the other scales, or you hit some wrong notes completely, move back to the pentatonic and it’ll all seem like the wrong notes were on purpose. That’s what I do and what everyone else does too.

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Thread: Pentatonic scales

  • Dec-29-2016, 10:52pm#1

    nick hyserman is offline
    Registered User

    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

  • Dec-29-2016, 11:12pm#2

    Stevo75 is offline
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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.


  • Dec-29-2016, 11:15pm#3

    Stevo75 is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    This may help:


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  • Dec-29-2016, 11:41pm#4

    JeffD is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    QuoteOriginally Posted by Stevo75View 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.)

    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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  • Dec-30-2016, 8:27am#5

    Mark Gunter is offline
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    QuoteOriginally Posted by nick hysermanView 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.   Name:	maj_pent_abbreviated.jpg  Views:	799  Size:	53.5 KB  ID:	152611

    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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  • Dec-30-2016, 10:10am#6

    noah finn is offline
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    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


  • Dec-30-2016, 10:12am#7

    noah finn is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales


  • Dec-30-2016, 11:38am#8

    nick hyserman is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Thank you all very much. Most helpful


  • Dec-30-2016, 12:59pm#9

    Joseph Baker is offline
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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


  • Dec-30-2016, 1:41pm#10

    EdHanrahan is online now
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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

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  • Dec-30-2016, 1:57pm#11

    JeffD is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    QuoteOriginally Posted by Joseph BakerView 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.

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  • Dec-30-2016, 4:19pm#12

    jshane is offline
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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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  • Dec-30-2016, 5:45pm#13

    Mark Gunter is offline
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar

    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    QuoteOriginally Posted by jshaneView 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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  • Dec-30-2016, 6:05pm#14

    nick hyserman is offline
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    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..


  • Dec-30-2016, 6:15pm#15

    billhay4 is offline
    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar

    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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  • Dec-30-2016, 8:24pm#16

    mikeonthemandolin is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales


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  • Dec-30-2016, 10:55pm#17

    jhowell is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales


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  • Dec-31-2016, 10:14am#18

    Mark Gunter is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Interesting micro-article! Thanks for sharing this. The video from that article is embedded below.

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  • Dec-31-2016, 2:02pm#19

    JeffD is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

    The entire staff
    funny....


  • Jan-01-2017, 10:40pm#20

    Andy B is offline
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    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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  • Jan-02-2017, 3:31pm#21

    Larry Simonson is offline
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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


  • Jan-03-2017, 12:11am#22

    Joel Glassman is offline
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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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  • Sep-04-2020, 8:53pm#23

    Sherry Cadenhead is offline
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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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  • Sep-05-2020, 5:47pm#24

    Sherry Cadenhead is offline
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    Default Re: Pentatonic scales

    QuoteOriginally Posted by Andy BView 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???

  • Sep-05-2020, 6:37pm#25

    onassis is offline
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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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    Pentatonic scales mandolin

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    How to Play a Major Pentatonic Scale on the Mandolin

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