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I was messing with the A minor pentatonic scale and discovered that if I sharpen the 2nd note of the scale, it sounds very interesting to my ears, even more than the original scale.

Does this already have a name, maybe a mode or something? And I am sure I know quite a few songs using this interval, but couldn't remember where I heard it! I would like to know if you remember any.

It looks like this ;

A C# D E G

Thanks

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We could call this an A7add11 arpeggio. (Or, more accurately, the notes from an A7add11 chord.)

Although this is still a set of five pitches, it is no longer a pentatonic scale in the traditional sense; one feature of the related diatonic major and minor pentatonic scales, which are in common usage, is that they do not contain any semitone intervals. (There is some information about the difference between pentatonic scales with and without semitone intervals here.)

In fact, as pentatonic scales have only five notes, they can often be thought of as being mid-way between common arpeggios (eg. major and minor triads which have three notes) and common scales (eg. diatonic modes and harmonic/melodic minor scales which have seven notes). For this reason, the simplest way to describe the notes you present here (A C# D E G) is as an A7 chord with an added D. We could call this an A7add11 chord (not a suspension, as there is also the third, C#, and not an add4 as the inclusion of a third implies that the D is interpreted as an 11th, using tertian harmony). And, when considering these notes 'as a scale' (i.e. one at a time) you are simply considering them as an arpeggiated chord, rather than as a chord where all the pitches are played simultaneously.

Of course, this is somewhat unreliable; depending upon which note you choose to consider to be the root, you could interpret this to be a number of different chords, although in this case four of the notes outline an A7 chord, so this seems preferable. Sometimes though, sets of pitches don't seem to be so easy to describe in terms of traditional harmony. At this point Pitch Class Set Theory can help. This allows a rigorous way to describe any set of pitches. Putting your pitches into this PC Set Calculator returns the PC Set 5-29. Then, looking up PC Set 5-29 on this table we can see that your pitches can be described as a Kumoi Pentachord (and no, I'd never heard of one either…!)

  • @Spring It's just worth pointing out that these notes are an A7add11 arpeggio in Close Position - in other words, the 11th is not in the octave above, but is played as a 4th. – Bob Broadley May 20 '14 at 13:17
  • No problemo! Just make sure to stress that this is not the name of any kind of pentatonic scale. I suppose any combination of notes can be described as some modified chord played arpeggio. However, the fact that this very simple scale cannot be described as a simple "chord" should serve as a hint that describing it as a chord is a bad idea to begin with. And yes, I refuse to think that A7add11 is a simple chord. ;-) – Lee White May 20 '14 at 14:52
  • I would have to agree. The language you use is a bit misleading. A pentatonic scale is, by definition, a 5 note scale, but I do agree that most often it is a semitone free scale. Beyond that, the biggest thing that wasn't considered here is where and how the OP is using the scale. Is this scale used melodically on top of a minor chord accompaniment? If so, then I would argue that your answer is not a proper description. It is also more than likely that the D acts as a non-chord tone, wanting resolution to the C#, which would ruin the add11 chord concept. – Basstickler May 20 '14 at 15:39
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    @Basstickler I don't see a reason to make it more complicated. I play these notes over A chord as a melody, and phrase them, just like you can lead Am arpeggio over a song in Am on guitar. Here I play A7add11 arpeggio over A key. While it might have other names, seeing it as a chord also certainly helps, so I can "refer" to it, and I don't need to say "Raga Gandharavam scale" or "minor pentatonic with a sharpened 2nd" instead I say "notes from A7add11 chord" Because it does not have a better name. – Spring May 20 '14 at 16:17
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    @Spring - I still find it important to note that the A7add11 notation could lead to a few misinterpretations when playing with others. As I mentioned in a previous comment, the use of each chord symbol or scale comes with implied harmonic or melodic choices. I would suggest playing the scale over a few different chords, including an A7add11, and see which chord seems to best harmonize the interesting feeling that you get from it. I would guess that the A7add11 is not the proper chord, as it is pretty uncommon, though it may be. – Basstickler May 20 '14 at 21:00
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It doesn't seem have an agreed upon name . It's sometimes called "sus penatonic" or "mixolydian pentatonic" but other scales are called with the same names too.

Beatles song "Within You Without You" starts with a short passage in this scale. You can hear more examples in Indian and fusion music. Try googling C E F G Bb for some more examples and discussion.

You can play it over dominant seventh chords (just like the mixolydian which it's a subset of) for added exotic flavor.

Here is an instance where it's called "sus pentatonic".

Here where it's called "mixolydian pentatonic.

I openly pointed out that this scale does not have an agreed upon name and that these names are also used for other scales

  • The mixolydian pentatonic scale goes I II III V VIIb and the sus pentatonic scale goes I II IV V VIIb, while Spring's scale goes I III IV V VIIb, so this information is definitely not correct. – Lee White May 20 '14 at 12:48
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    Here's an instance where it's called "sus pentatonic", and here's one where it's called "mixolydian pentatonic. I openly pointed out that this scale does not have an agreed upon name and that these names are also used for other scales. – cyco130 May 20 '14 at 12:52
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Technically there's no name for a scale that goes like A C# D E G. Cyco130 showed us this link where it is called "sus pentatonic", and this link where it is called "mixolydian pentatonic". However, both these names are also frequently used for slightly different scales, so the terminology is not completely clear.

From a keys' point of view, it seems like you're simply turning the minor key into a major one, where the G is a seventh note. Sevenths are very common in major keys, so what you are doing is perfectly acceptable. Basically, you've just found one of the many ways to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) change the key of what you're playing. By simply sharpening that C, your key moves from Am to A. Personally I like to do that particular key switch for the very last chord of a song; if the song is in A minor, ending with an A major chord makes your song sound like the sad (minor) mood has an unexpected happy (major) ending.

  • tnx but a bit confused, as far as I know Pentatonic major scale is "A B C# E F#" so it is different than what I play – Spring May 20 '14 at 11:18
  • That's indeed how the pentatonic scale is taught in theory, but there is nothing wrong with playing notes outside of your scale. These scales are simply a basic 'guideline' -- good soloists take a lot of freedom with how they apply these scales. Technically there's no name for a scale that goes like A C# D E G, but as I said, what you are doing is simply a nice way to change the song's key. – Lee White May 20 '14 at 11:21
  • The definition of a pentatonic scale is "a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave" [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentatonic_scale]. What is often called "the pentatonic scale" is a pentatonic scale. It can also be called a gapped blues scale for missing notes. Accordingly, I'd be describing this scale as a major flat 7 with 2 and 6 omitted. But I wouldn't be describing the second note as sharpened, since there is a natural gap with full steps where a passing tone can go that is the omitted second. – Tom Anderson May 20 '14 at 23:19

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