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Pentatonic scales?

August 10, 2022, 4:21 AM · The discussion about scales in the weekend vote got me wondering, how many would play scales such as the pentatonic or other such scales?

And if so, are there any books on them for the violin, or do you play from guitarists' books? And likewise, have you experimented with the likes of the blues scale, or gamelan pelog or slendro, or so?

Replies (17)

Edited: August 10, 2022, 4:45 AM · I've never bothered with them much except when improvising on harmonica.
They won't take you 5 minutes to master - there's some violin improv at the end of Van Morrison's Bright Side of the Road that's approximately pentatonic.
Don't bother with books.
Major pentatonic - ignore the 4th and the 7th.
Minor (and blues) pentatonic - ignore the 2nd and the 6th (i.e. the same notes as the major). It's the black notes on a keyboard - either start on F# or on D#.
(but strictly speaking, the blue third is sharper than a minor third)

Edited: August 10, 2022, 7:51 AM · The answer to your question is "Yes." A book of such scales was published by Mike Laird. I have his book. It's pretty good -- he put a lot of thought and personal experience into it. My only quibble is that it's somewhat unrealistic. A jazz violinist doesn't need fingerings for three-octave pentatonic scales into the upper reaches of the fingerboard. In fact you want to get away from canned fingerings as fast as possible because they're almost useless in an improv situation. But you can ignore the nosebleed stuff and still learn a lot from Mike's book.
August 10, 2022, 12:18 PM · I practise pentatonic scales a lot. I'd say the best way is to pull solos that use them, rather than the classical method of brainlessly drilling scales up and down for half an hour. Although you should do that once or twice.
Edited: August 10, 2022, 8:51 PM · The pentatonic scales can be an easy way to get into improvising. Limiting to the five notes while playing in a blues chord progression can make it easier to hit notes that sound good enough. One problem with pentatonic notes is that the five notes are rather limiting and can get boring, so most folks who start with pentatonic solos soon expand to blues scale as well as into other notes for variety (b2, b5, 4th, chromatic tones, etc.). It doesn’t hurt to start with pentatonic notes, though. On fretted instruments, pentatonic patterns can make it easier to move up and down the fretboard, even if just as starting points to get to other notes.
Edited: August 10, 2022, 8:58 PM · Cotton wrote, "rather than the classical method of brainlessly drilling scales up and down for half an hour."

Which of your teachers taught you that? Mine certainly didn't. I was taught to analyze what went wrong with each iteration and purposefully find a way to fix it -- to really try to improve the scale in some specific way each time.

The reason to "play them up and down" is so that you learn the "fingerboard logic" of each type of scale or arpeggio. Pentatonic scales are halfway between scale and arpeggio because there are some whole steps and a couple of intervals (thirds). If your goal is improvisation then you do want to start and stop on different notes (much the way one practices arpeggios in triad inversions), and you want to experiment a lot with different fingerings and positions, because you never know where you'll be during a solo when your mind's ear calls up a snippet of a pentatonic scale.

August 11, 2022, 12:22 AM · For me the pentatonic scale forms the basis of improvisation, to which can be added any chromatic notes when desired. Every chord can have it's own penta scale and yet just one scale can be used through an entire piece.

I agree with Gordon; don't buy a book, work it out for your self. Take the basic penta formulae 12356 of the major scale, play it across all strings up and down positions and you will begin to see the patterns emerging. Began on every note of the scale from the lowest note and you will create all the possible inversions.

Superimpose 12356 on every note of the major scale and you will discover some very exotic pentatonics which include semi-tones.

August 11, 2022, 10:08 AM · My point is nobody ever crafts a solo with scales up and down because it sounds lame.
Edited: August 11, 2022, 10:52 AM · In agreement with Cotton, but mostly just floating an idea, I think I once commented somewhere that whether you practise scales or not depends on how much your instrument's repertoire uses them.
Violin and piano perhaps a lot, guitar far less so. Segovia invented a whole scale system, and it's pretty good - I could once play the whole thing from memory - but I don't know how useful it ever was.
Pretty much no music employs pentatonic scales.
Similarly you could practise octatonic scales, but to no avail.
Or full tone scales. Although I quite like them as intonation exercises on the violin. They never integrate with pythag, but it's not a big setback. The point is to cover exactly an octave.
Or any of the modes, really.
If they are rarely used, then all you need do is practise the pieces that contain them, or improvise.
August 11, 2022, 11:26 AM · Brainless scales are necessary. Especially because the more brain you put into them, the more essential they become. Mostly everything else is kind of easier than scales in music. If you are good at scales, you will be even better with actual music.

Which is not stating that you should only play the violin for technique's sake alone. Music *is* the end. But conscientious scale work prepares us for it without us realizing how, as our brain assimilates all our scale and other technical work.

Edited: August 11, 2022, 12:19 PM · I always think of Amazing Grace when somebody mentions pentatonic songs. Folk music has lots of pentatonic tunes. I also tend to think of MINOR pentatonic when I’m thinking pentatonic, but a quick Internet search found this list of major pentatonic scale songs (and comments that there were MANY songs based on pentatonic scale).
Major Pentatonic Scale Songs
“Honky Tonk Woman” The Rolling Stones — G major pentatonic
“Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd — G major pentatonic
“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd — G major pentatonic
“Centerfold” The J. Geils Band — G major pentatonic
“Cannonball” Duane Eddy — G major pentatonic
“Amazing Grace” Hymn — Any major pentatonic
“Amie” Pure Prairie League — A major pentatonic
“Jessica” The Allman Brothers Band — A major pentatonic
“Upside Down” Jack Johnson — E major pentatonic
“I Love Rock ‘N Roll” Joan Jett — E major pentatonic
“Yellow Ledbetter” Pearl Jam — E major pentatonic
“Blue Sky” The Allman Brothers Band — E major pentatonic
“Gasoline Alley” Rod Stewart — E major pentatonic
“My Girl” The Temptations — C and F major pentatonic
“Better Together” Jack Johnson — F major pentatonic
“As Long As You Follow” Fleetwood Mac — F major pentatonic
“Let It Be” The Beatles — C major pentatonic
“Maggie May” Rod Stewart — D major pentatonic
(I have NOT gone over these songs to verify that they are Major Pentatonic, lol)
August 11, 2022, 1:12 PM · Old MacDonald had a farm
August 11, 2022, 5:47 PM · LOL, here's another song...

Merrily We Roll Along..

Seriously, there is a ton of 'classical' music written using pentatonics; The Lark Ascending, and I think Chopin wrote a piece entirely for the black keys.

Scales don't just go up and down, thats just how you learn them; they go in and out, back and forth. The pentatonic scale doesn't have any 'odd' notes, neither does the 'Hijaz' scale....

August 11, 2022, 9:14 PM · The pentatonic scale has plenty of odd notes if you're in the wrong key. :)
August 11, 2022, 11:39 PM · The pentatonic scale has plenty of odd notes if you're in the wrong key. :)

This is called 'superimposing' as I mentioned before.

But my point was; they are only 'odd' notes if they are not used well. :-))

August 12, 2022, 7:11 AM · Or you can just say you "went outside" for a couple of bars. All the jazz cats will toke their joints and say, "Oooh, wow, man!"
August 12, 2022, 7:17 AM · G A B D E is a great pentatonic scale for the violin because they all represent ring tones: notes that are especially rich sounding. These make it easy to train your ear to place your fingers.

Also, there is a lot of music that uses Pentatonic scales. If you find something you like, transpose it to the G Major pentatonic and you can practice intonation and musicality at the same time.

August 12, 2022, 6:48 PM ·

It wouldn't make any difference how many times they toke when the cats hear you playing in the wrong key...

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