Just as there are seven modes of the diatonic scale, I would expect five modes of the pentatonic scale.

Have these been classified?

Here they are, in the form of {semitone interval gaps} (Notes for root:C)

    { 2 2 3  2 3  }  ( C D E  G A  )
    { 3  2 2 3  2 }  ( C ♭E F G ♭B )
    { 2 3  2 2 3  }  ( C D  F G A  )  
    { 3  2 3  2 2 }  ( C ♭E F ♭A♭B )
    { 2 3  2 3  2 }  ( C D  F G ♭B )  

Note how I've used spacing to illustrate that it is the same pattern cycling.

In the key of C, I would expect {C ♭E F ♭A ♭B} to be labelled a 'minor' pentatonic, as ♭E and ♭A are both in the scale of C minor.

However, {C D E G A} and {C D F G A} would both be contenders for a 'major' pentatonic scale.

  • Diatonic is commonly used to mean incorporating the 12-tone system of so-called 'Western theory', whereas pentatonic refers to the use of any number of 5-tone systems. I think technically when using a pentatonic scale, as long as you stay within that scale you can still be said to be playing 'diatonically'. But, the use of pentatonics sort of restricts what modern theoretical equivalences can be used. AFAIK although a couple of pentatonics are more common, and some do get called 'minor' as a specific entity in modern theory, even something like C C# D D# E is a pentatonic scale. – Darren Ringer Feb 28 '15 at 23:22
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Theoretically, yes there are five modes that can be derived from the major pentatonic scale and they would be named the same way the other modes contained in the major scale.

Let's look at the relative modes instead of parallel as it is slightly easier to see the patter. The C major pentatonic scale consists of the following notes:

  • C, D, E, G, A

Like any scale, we can start on any note and have a different mode. The name would be consistent with how modes are typically named and shown as follows:

  • D Dorian pentatonic - D, E, G, A, C
  • E Phrygian pentatonic - E, G, A, C, D
  • G Mixolydian pentatonic - G, A, C, D, E
  • A minor pentatonic - A, C, D, E , G

Something important must be noted though as of the scales above, only the major and minor contain the notes of the tonic chord. Thus the other 3 modes of the pentatonic scale really aren't too useful. Especially when you consider the petantionic scales are more for watered-down improvisations and melodies thus trying to build modes of them practically doesn't make much sense.

Dom's answer correctly explains what the modes of the pentatonic scale are and how they are (not) used. Since this might give the impression that the pentatonic scale is almost exclusively useful if used as either major or minor pentatonic scale, I would like to add one important application of the pentatonic scale where it is used over a chord whose tonic is not even part of the scale. This use of the pentatonic scale is pretty common in jazz. Since very often the root of the associated chord is not part of the scale, it usually does not make sense to talk about these scales as modes.

Here a few examples:

  • G major pentatonic over Cmaj7: creates a Cmaj13 sound
  • D major pentatonic over Cmaj7: creates a Cmaj13(#11) (lydian) sound
  • E minor pentatonic over Am7: creates an Am11 sound
  • B minor pentatonic over Am7: creates an Am13 (dorian) sound
  • Bb minor pentatonic over G7: creates a G7alt (altered, superlocrian) sound

What is happening in all of these examples is that some of the basic (triad) chord tones in the standard pentatonic scale are replaced by higher chord tensions, which add more color than the root or the fifth of the chord. Note that the only example above where the scale contains the root of the associated chord is 'E minor pentatonic over Am7'. This corresponds to what could be called 'dorian pentatonic' (see Dom's answer). For all other examples the root of the chord is not part of the scale, so talking about modes doesn't make much sense here. Yet, they are basic major or minor pentatonic scales, just used in an unconventional way.

Of course all of them are subsets of a complete 7-note chord scale (in above order):

  • C major (ionian) without root and fourth
  • C lydian without root and fifth
  • A dorian without third and sixth
  • A dorian without third and seventh
  • G altered without root and third

While some pentatonic scales may not be common in western music, pentatonic scales are used in many cultures around the world so each mode mode of the pentatonic scale does have a name; for example, the yo scale, from Japan, is equivalent to the 5th mode you mentioned (CD FG Bb) when ascending and equivalent to the 3rd mode you mentioned (CD FGA) when descending.

Yo Scale:
Ascending:
C D  F G  Bb C
Descending and Basic:
C  A G F  D C

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo_scale

Due to it's communally written nature Wikipedia is a good place to start looking for these modes, and it has names for each of the modes you mentioned, as well as information on a number of pentatonic pentatonic traditions from around the world.

{ 2 2 3  2 3  }  ( C D E  G A  ) Major Pentatonic
{ 3  2 2 3  2 }  ( C ♭E F G ♭B ) Minor Pentatonic
{ 2 3  2 2 3  }  ( C D  F G A  ) Blues Major, Ritsusen, Yo (Also standard tuning (Zheng Diao) of a Guqin)
{ 3  2 3  2 2 }  ( C ♭E F ♭A♭B ) Blues Minor, Man Gong
{ 2 3  2 3  2 }  ( C D  F G ♭B ) Egyptian, Suspended

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentatonic_scale#Five_black-key_pentatonic_scales_of_the_piano

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.