Tips to Play Minor Pentatonic Scales On The Piano

How To Play Minor Pentatonic Scales

Have you heard of “penting it out”? This approach lets you, a beginner piano student, create great sounding melodies on the piano right from the start. One of the ways you can do this is with the minor pentatonic scales!

This is part 4 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 minor scales are put together here (part 2). Then, check out Major scales here (part 1) and Major pentatonic scales here (part 3) so you have a better understanding of what is covered here.


A Surprising Discovery

In our previous article in the series, I had mentioned the phrase, “When in doubt, pent it out.” And, it really is a fantastic approach to sounding great when improvising and composing.

We’ve looked and heard what this sounds like when it’s Major. But what about minor?

In researching for this series, I suddenly realized that almost all the minor pentatonic scale videos and articles I came across were related to guitar. Why?

Turns out this scale requires a bit more dexterity on the piano than I had originally thought. Having discovered this, I still thought it was worth adding to our beginner piano series with a caveat. Play only as far as it is comfortable.


Major vs. Minor Pentatonic Patterns

While our Major and minor pentascales (5-note scales) only had one note different, the pentatonic pattern is a little different.

The way I have see pentatonic patterns taught is in relation to the notes included in the eight-note scale. But, this doesn’t help you as a beginner.

Instead, we will look at the half and whole step patterns.

The Major pentatonic scale pattern is “Whole step – Whole step – Whole step+Half step – Whole step”.

The only thing a minor pentatonic scale pattern has in common is the “whole step” at the beginning. Oh my!


Minor Pentatonic Scale Pattern

Pentatonic scale pattern are not easy to explain through text. So, I recommend getting gems, bigger Lego or small blocks to see what this pattern looks like on your piano.

The minor pentatonic scale is …

TWO Whole steps – Whole step – Whole Step – Whole steps + Half step

This might also be written as 2W – W – W – W+H.

If that sounds confusing, check out the video below or here.

How To Practice Minor Pentatonic Scales

If you’ve been following along with the series, you know the drill. If you are new to this series, be sure to follow the steps below in order. This will help help you build up your dexterity and give your brain a chance to process this new scale.

One of the first minor pentatonic scales students typically learn is the A minor pentatonic scale: A, B, C, E, F

First play the minor pentatonic scale going up (to the right) and down (to the left). Play with your left hand, then your right hand.

Next play with your hands together.

Your brain may feel like it’s getting pulled in two separate directions when you play hands together. This is completely normal when learning this type of hand-eye-brain connection on the piano. Think of it as patting your head while rubbing circles on your stomach. You can do this … it just takes some practice before it feels easy.

Bonus Tip!

The bonus tip is to go beyond moving just right or left. You can move your hand towards the fallboard (the part of the piano directly behind the keys) at any point. This means you are moving your hand in more of a 3D plane of motion. Sometimes closer to your body. Sometimes further away.

To see this in action, check out the video above or here.


Creating a Minor Pentatonic Scale Song

Improvising, or making up a song on the spot, is a great way for piano students of all levels to explore and master new ideas or concepts. When it comes to the minor pentatonic scale, this is especially important!

If you have read the previous articles in this series, feel free to just start playing. If you are new, use these ideas to create your first mini song!

Idea 1:

Use all the notes in the minor penatonic scale to create a simple melody.

Play your minor pentatonic scales:

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

Idea 2:

Once you have mastered idea 1, the next step is to add rhythm with longer and shorter notes. This is part of what gives each mini melody you create a different feel even though the notes you use are the same.

To see examples of each, check out the video above or here.


Minor Pentatonic Scales On The Piano

The minor pentatonic scales following a unique pattern of half and whole steps that is quite different from any of the other patterns we’ve looked at.

The minor pentatonic scale is “TWO Whole steps – Whole step – Whole Step – Whole steps + Half step” or 2W – W – W – W+H.

By using repeat notes, switching directions and adding rhythm, you can create mini songs that show off the range of this pattern on the piano!

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


If you want to kick start your piano playing, click the button below or here.

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