There are some scales that have only five notes in them: these are called pentatonic scales.
What does Pentatonic mean?
Penta is a Greek word meaning “five” and tonic refers to tones, so the pentatonic scale is a scale made up of five different notes.
The simplest way to see how this works is by playing the black notes on your piano. Play the group of three notes and then the group of two notes, one note at a time, going upwards. If you can do that, you can play a pentatonic scale!
To complete the scale, simply play the very next black note you come to (which should be the same as the first note but an octave higher).
White Note Pentatonic Scales
Of course, you can play a pentatonic scale using white notes, too, as long as the spacing between the notes remains the same.
For example, a pentatonic scale starting on middle C will have the notes:
C, D, E, G, A and the next C.
The top note is simply the note C repeated an octave higher to round off the scale.
A Pentatonic Tune
Finally, here’s an example of how the pentatonic scale would look and sound in a piece of music.
Notice that the right hand melody uses only the notes from the pentatonic scale. The left hand is not the same, however, using notes from the basic C scale. Even though the melody is constructed from the pentatonic scale, it’s perfectly acceptable for the left hand to accompany using a different scale.
Listen out for pieces of music that might make use of the pentatonic scale. One such piece is Claude Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” – and you can find lots of examples of people playing that on YouTube.
Listen especially to the first four notes of the tune each time it appears, which uses the notes Db, Bb, Gb, and Eb (the notes C#, A#, F#, and D# represented as flats) — in other words, just the black notes.
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