"Pent It Out" With Major Pentatonic Scales On The Piano

How To Play Beginner Major Pentatonic Scales

As a beginner piano student, you may believe there are only two types of scales: Major and minor. But, there are actually many types of scales that each bring their own mood and style! One of the ones that helps beginner piano players sound great quickly is the Major pentatonic scales.

This is part 3 of our looking into beginner scales! If you’ve missed the start of this beginner piano series on scales, I highly recommend reading about how to put Major scales together here (part 1) and minor scales here (part 2) so you have a better understanding of what is covered here.

Pent It Out

Years ago I heard a rather funny, but useful phrase. “When in doubt, pent it out.” As a classically trained piano player I had never heard this before! But, after hearing the pentatonic scale there was no denying it sounded really cool.

Once I learnt the pattern, it quickly became a starting point for improvising and composing in my studio. Because it always sounds good, it was fantastic for everyone from beginners through to advanced students!

Major Pentatonic Scale Pattern

As with every scale, the Major pentatonic scales follow a pattern of half and whole steps (click here if you are wondering what those are). Like our previous Major 5-note (pentascales) scales, these scales also only use 5 notes. But, there is a small but significant change in which notes are played.

Often students are taught to this pattern: 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the Major scale.

If you are a beginner piano player though, my guess is this means very little to you. And, that’s because it assumes you know the full Major scale. Why would you know that? And, why should you have to wait to learn this fantastic scale?

The Pattern

This pattern can be difficult to understand, so grab gems, bigger Lego or small blocks to visualize this on your piano.

The Major Pentatonic Scale is …

Whole step – Whole step – Whole step+Half step – Whole step

This might also be written as W – W – W+H – W.

But, what does this mean? You move a whole step, then another whole step. The next jump actually skips the 4th note of the Major scale which means you move a whole step plus half step to reach your next note. Lastly, you move another whole step.

To see exactly what this looks like, I recommend watching the video below or clicking here.


How To Practice Major Pentatonic Scales

One of the first Major pentatonic scales students typically learn is the C Major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A

Start by playing the full pentatonic scale: go up, to the right, then down, to the left.

Repeat this for each hand. Add a challenge with playing both hands together!

By starting hand separate, you give your fingers and brain a chance to learn the notes. By playing hands together, you build the dexterity and test whether you really know the pattern. Piano is one of the few instruments that requires both sides of your brain to work simultaneously so it’s good to start this training earlier.

Once you are comfortable, try playing other Major pentatonic scales starting on other notes. Just be sure to use the W – W – W+H – W pattern.

Make Your Own Major Pentatonic Song

One of the best ways to supercharge your practice is to create something new using the new concept. In this case, improvising (making up on the spot) a mini song that uses the Major Pentatonic scales.

If you have read the previous articles in this series, these ideas will already be familiar to you. If you are new, welcome!

Idea 1:

Create a melody that uses all the notes within the scale.

Play your Major pentatonic scales:

  • With some repeated notes,
  • Go up a few notes, change direction, play a few notes, switch again
  • Repeat until you have played all the notes of the scale going up and down.

Idea 2:

Once you can change directions mid-scale, incorporate rhythm with longer and shorter notes. Rhythm is part of what gives a song it’s distinct vibe.

To see exactly what this looks like, I recommend watching the video above or clicking here.

Major Pentatonic Scales On The Piano

Part of what makes this pattern unique is the combination of whole and half step part way through the pentatonic scale. By using whole and half steps in a pattern, you can master Major pentatonic scales … even as a beginner piano player!

The pattern for Major pentatonic scales is “Whole step – Whole step – Whole+Half step – Whole step” or W – W – W+H – W.

Remember that exploring this pattern by making mini songs (improvising) is one of the most effective ways of learning and applying the pentatonic pattern.

What was the most challenging part of learning Major pentatonic scales?

If you like this approach to learning piano, click to set up FREE meeting with me to join our online piano studio!

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