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.

  • 1
    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. Feb 28, 2015 at 23:22

5 Answers 5


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, the other 3 modes of the pentatonic is not about tonic chord. Its about harmony in music, the bass player know this well.
    – Bent
    Feb 19, 2021 at 18:04
  • @Bent Yes, but strictly speak when looking at the structures, it would be hard to say we're in any of the modes without more of the notes that define them. The pentatonic scale is more of a jumping off point than fully harmony and because of that certain flavors don't come of with just these sets of notes. For example, could you really say you were in E Phhrygian without playing an F which gives that mode it's flavor or D dorian without F either?
    – Dom
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:34
  • This website refers to Dorian pentatonic as something else: jazz-guitar-licks.com/pages/guitar-scales-modes/… Jan 9, 2023 at 2:21

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:
C D  F G  Bb C
Descending and Basic:
C  A G F  D C


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



Major & minor pentatonic are widely accepted, but the other "modes" listed only share the root of the modes on which they are built, but are missing the color tones that characterize that particular mode.

  • D Dorian pentatonic D, E, G, A, C
  • 1, 2, 4, 5, b7 (ex. b3 & 6)
  • E Phrygian pentatonic - E, G, A, C, D
  • 1, b3, 4, b6, b7 (ex. b2)
  • G Mixolydian pentatonic - G, A, C, D, E
  • 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 (ex. 3 & b7)

"Dorian pentatonic" is missing the minor 3rd as well the Major 6th, which define the triad and differentiate Dorian from Aeolian/natural minor. I have seen this pattern called Egyptian, but that doesn't relay any info on it's use. A better designation would be Suspended, or rather 9sus4.

"Phrygian pentatonic" contains the minor chord & color tones, but again this mode is missing it's a key color tone in b2; this defines Phrygian. I have seen this pattern called Blues Minor and other exotic appellations such as Man Gong, which are misleading and ineffective respectively. In keeping with a chord name that conveys useful musical info, perhaps min11#5. It's not a chord you're likely to see on a lead sheet, but function aside we can extrapolate what notes are contained within the scale.

"Mixolydian pentatonic" is perhaps the least aptly named as there is nothing to define the triad or the quality of the seventh. It could be any major mode or Dorian even. In keeping with the chord name reference without regard to function, I think of this as a 6/9sus4.

In summary, I submit that we should use the following naming conventions for the pentatonic modes:

  • A minor pentatonic
  • C Major pentatonic
  • D 9sus4 pentatonic
  • E min11#5 pentatonic
  • G 6/9sus4 pentatonic
  • I think you missed the last paragraph of my answer that says they aren't necessarily useful in that context. There is ambiguity of the pentatonic scale which is why it is versatile, trying to lock them into a chord name doesn't necessarily match with that very well.
    – Dom
    Oct 25, 2020 at 3:07
  • @Dom, I did see your comment, but I thought I made it clear that these were not chords in the functional sense but rather a way to 'classify' the modes in the spirit of the OP. By that I mean you were to tell me to play Dorian pentatonic, the scale in mind would be the minor pentatonic plus the M6 (even in favor of the b7); similarly with the Phrygian add the b2, and with Mixo add the the M3 instead for the 'Dominant pentatonic'. I didn't intend to challenge you, just the notion of these modal designations for the pentatonic box patterns. "...watered-down improvisations" for shame! Oct 26, 2020 at 17:00

Different modes of the pentatonic scale

A Minor Pentatonic (aeolian)

C Major Pentatonic (ionian)

D Sus2 Pentatonic (dorian)

E Minor Pentatonic (phrygian)

G Sus2 Pentatonic (mixolydian)

In relation to the diatonic scale, the modes of the minor pentatonic scale in order would be -

Aeolian Pentatonic (missing 2 and 6)

Ionian Pentatonic (missing 4 and 7)

Dorian Pentatonic (missing 3 and 6)

Phrygian Pentatonic (missing 2 and 5)

Mixolydian Pentatonic (missing 3 and 7)

The modes of the major pentatonic scale in order would be -

Ionian Pentatonic (missing 4 and 7)

Dorian Pentatonic (missing 3 and 6)

Phrygian Pentatonic (missing 2 and 5)

Mixolydian Pentatonic (missing 3 and 7)

Aeolian Pentatonic (missing 2 and 6)

Hope this helps, I'm a bass player and usually refer to them as positions ie,

A Minor Pentatonic (aeolian) position 1

C Major Pentatonic (ionian) position 3

D Minor Pentatonic (dorian) position 4

E Minor Pentatonic (phrygian) position 5

G Major Pentatonic (mixolydian) position 2

The pentatoinc scale is missing the root notes from the lydian and locrian modes

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