Pentatonic scales and keys

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cj.stevens

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Joined: 09/10/16

Posts: 7

I'm steadily learning the notation for keys in sheet music, the series of flats and sharps that show what key the song is in. Is there a shortcut to determine that a song will be using pentatonic scales (or some other non major or minor scale) based upon the key? As there is no such thing as a 'Dmaj pentatonic key', right?

So if I am playing a song in the key of Dmaj, is there a way to know if it would be using primarily notes from the Dmaj pentatonic. Or would I just work it out by reading the individual notes since the Dmaj pentatonic is a subset of Dmaj?

I know a good amount of rock music is based on the pentatonic scale, and that the pentatonic is made up of 5 notes from its related major or minor scale.

I stick mostly to classic and alternative rock and I don't remember seeing any songs using minor keys? Perhaps other genres of music they are more common. Could you give me an example or two of a song written in a minor key so I can train my 'slow learning' ears? I'm sure it's covered in Guitar Fundamentals but I guess I haven't made it that far yet.

The only thing I know about minor keys is that they are sad - thank you Spinal Tap!

#1

I'm steadily learning the notation for keys in sheet music, the series of flats and sharps that show what key the song is in. Is there a shortcut to determine that a song will be using pentatonic scales (or some other non major or minor scale) based upon the key? As there is no such thing as a 'Dmaj pentatonic key', right?

So if I am playing a song in the key of Dmaj, is there a way to know if it would be using primarily notes from the Dmaj pentatonic. Or would I just work it out by reading the individual notes since the Dmaj pentatonic is a subset of Dmaj?

I know a good amount of rock music is based on the pentatonic scale, and that the pentatonic is made up of 5 notes from its related major or minor scale.

I stick mostly to classic and alternative rock and I don't remember seeing any songs using minor keys? Perhaps other genres of music they are more common. Could you give me an example or two of a song written in a minor key so I can train my 'slow learning' ears? I'm sure it's covered in Guitar Fundamentals but I guess I haven't made it that far yet.

The only thing I know about minor keys is that they are sad - thank you Spinal Tap!

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 4880

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

Is there a shortcut to determine that a song will be using pentatonic scales (or some other non major or minor scale) based upon the key? As there is no such thing as a 'Dmaj pentatonic key', right?

There isn't any shortcut per se. A song or part of a song is either in a major key or minor key. To be in a certain key means the melody & chords are based on one particular major or minor diatonic scale. And as you say, pentatonic scales are merely subsets of diatonic scales. The only difference is that you avoid 2 of the diatonic notes to use the pentatonic "version" of the scale. Those 2 notes are still there to use. And frequently those diatonic notes are still used in the chords & harmony of a song even if they aren't used in the vocal melody or guitar licks of a pop or rock song.

So, it really doesn't help clarify anything to make a distinction between diatonic & pentatonic for key signatures. If you use D major diatonic, you are in the key of D major. If you use D major pentatonic, you are in the key of D major. Make sense? :)

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

So if I am playing a song in the key of Dmaj, is there a way to know if it would be using primarily notes from the Dmaj pentatonic.

Primarily you would work it out by the sound. The primary difference between diatonic & pentatonic is that they sound different because you are avoiding 2 notes.

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

I know a good amount of rock music is based on the pentatonic scale, and that the pentatonic is made up of 5 notes from its related major or minor scale.

I stick mostly to classic and alternative rock and I don't remember seeing any songs using minor keys?

There are tons of pop rock & classic rock songs in minor keys.

Stairway To Heaven (LZep)

Babe I'm Gonna Leave You

All Along The Watch Tower (Hendrix & Dylan)

Simple Man (Skynyrd)

Enter Sandman (& most Metallica & metal)

Dream On (Aerosmith)
Eleanory Rigby (Beatles)

Comfortably Numb (the verse)

Miss You (Stones)

Dust In The Wind (Kansas)

Those are just the first 10 that I thought of off the top of my head!

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

I'm sure it's covered in Guitar Fundamentals but I guess I haven't made it that far yet.

I encourage you to work through GF course & then a style course. And learn songs! Start learning songs! That will improve your ear & fingers more than anything else!

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

The only thing I know about minor keys is that they are sad - thank you Spinal Tap!

HAHA! True. And D minor is the saddest of all.

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#2

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

Is there a shortcut to determine that a song will be using pentatonic scales (or some other non major or minor scale) based upon the key? As there is no such thing as a 'Dmaj pentatonic key', right?

There isn't any shortcut per se. A song or part of a song is either in a major key or minor key. To be in a certain key means the melody & chords are based on one particular major or minor diatonic scale. And as you say, pentatonic scales are merely subsets of diatonic scales. The only difference is that you avoid 2 of the diatonic notes to use the pentatonic "version" of the scale. Those 2 notes are still there to use. And frequently those diatonic notes are still used in the chords & harmony of a song even if they aren't used in the vocal melody or guitar licks of a pop or rock song.

So, it really doesn't help clarify anything to make a distinction between diatonic & pentatonic for key signatures. If you use D major diatonic, you are in the key of D major. If you use D major pentatonic, you are in the key of D major. Make sense? :)

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

So if I am playing a song in the key of Dmaj, is there a way to know if it would be using primarily notes from the Dmaj pentatonic.

Primarily you would work it out by the sound. The primary difference between diatonic & pentatonic is that they sound different because you are avoiding 2 notes.

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

I know a good amount of rock music is based on the pentatonic scale, and that the pentatonic is made up of 5 notes from its related major or minor scale.

I stick mostly to classic and alternative rock and I don't remember seeing any songs using minor keys?

There are tons of pop rock & classic rock songs in minor keys.

Stairway To Heaven (LZep)

Babe I'm Gonna Leave You

All Along The Watch Tower (Hendrix & Dylan)

Simple Man (Skynyrd)

Enter Sandman (& most Metallica & metal)

Dream On (Aerosmith)
Eleanory Rigby (Beatles)

Comfortably Numb (the verse)

Miss You (Stones)

Dust In The Wind (Kansas)

Those are just the first 10 that I thought of off the top of my head!

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

I'm sure it's covered in Guitar Fundamentals but I guess I haven't made it that far yet.

I encourage you to work through GF course & then a style course. And learn songs! Start learning songs! That will improve your ear & fingers more than anything else!

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

The only thing I know about minor keys is that they are sad - thank you Spinal Tap!

HAHA! True. And D minor is the saddest of all.

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

cj.stevens

Full Access

Joined: 09/10/16

Posts: 7

Yes - thanks for the explanation. I forgot that you can switch keys in the same song.

The part of learning the songs is most pertinent. I was too involved with the music theory and without the practice (learning the songs) it seems so mathematical. I was missing the application of the theory.

You've made this point often in your posts but I'm just now getting it!

I know all of the songs you mention; and now that I play them back in my head I think I have the feel for the minor key (not just an academic exercise!)

Heard two songs today on the old-fashioned FM radio: Fleetwood Mac's 'Gold Dust Woman' and The Allman Bros. 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'- are those minor key.?

#3

Yes - thanks for the explanation. I forgot that you can switch keys in the same song.

The part of learning the songs is most pertinent. I was too involved with the music theory and without the practice (learning the songs) it seems so mathematical. I was missing the application of the theory.

You've made this point often in your posts but I'm just now getting it!

I know all of the songs you mention; and now that I play them back in my head I think I have the feel for the minor key (not just an academic exercise!)

Heard two songs today on the old-fashioned FM radio: Fleetwood Mac's 'Gold Dust Woman' and The Allman Bros. 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'- are those minor key.?

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 4880

You're welcome! Glad you are getting my point about applying the theory you learn.

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

Heard two songs today on the old-fashioned FM radio: Fleetwood Mac's 'Gold Dust Woman' and The Allman Bros. 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'- are those minor key.?

Gold Dust Woman is in the key of D major. It has a B-flat chord which is borrowed from the key of D minor'. And that can give it a minor sound. Here's the intro chord progression.

D (I chord) / B-flat major (bVI chord)

So, that a modulation right off the bat! But it clearly starts in D major & then the melody & most of the chords refer to D major (or D mixolydian, a mode that suggests D major).

Most songs have some kind of twist that jumps out of key. That's where songs get their character from! That's how you add a little variety. Staying completely in only one key can sound a little bland or plain vanilla. Some artists like that sound, others don't.

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed is mostly A minor. The melodies & guitar solos use mostly A pentatonic minor (just going from memory here!) & the chords mostly suggest a modal jam in A dorian (minor scale with a major 6th degree).

For a totally minor key sound, think House of the Rising Sun. But even that song has major chords (from the minor key) that can add a happy major sound temporarily.

Hope that helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#4

You're welcome! Glad you are getting my point about applying the theory you learn.

Originally Posted by: cj.stevens

Heard two songs today on the old-fashioned FM radio: Fleetwood Mac's 'Gold Dust Woman' and The Allman Bros. 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'- are those minor key.?

Gold Dust Woman is in the key of D major. It has a B-flat chord which is borrowed from the key of D minor'. And that can give it a minor sound. Here's the intro chord progression.

D (I chord) / B-flat major (bVI chord)

So, that a modulation right off the bat! But it clearly starts in D major & then the melody & most of the chords refer to D major (or D mixolydian, a mode that suggests D major).

Most songs have some kind of twist that jumps out of key. That's where songs get their character from! That's how you add a little variety. Staying completely in only one key can sound a little bland or plain vanilla. Some artists like that sound, others don't.

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed is mostly A minor. The melodies & guitar solos use mostly A pentatonic minor (just going from memory here!) & the chords mostly suggest a modal jam in A dorian (minor scale with a major 6th degree).

For a totally minor key sound, think House of the Rising Sun. But even that song has major chords (from the minor key) that can add a happy major sound temporarily.

Hope that helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

cj.stevens

Full Access

Joined: 09/10/16

Posts: 7

Yes it certainly does help. Starting with songs in either all major or all minor seems like a good place to start.

#5

Yes it certainly does help. Starting with songs in either all major or all minor seems like a good place to start.

JJ_55

Registered User

Joined: 10/21/16

Posts: 7

Something so simple, but it works for me visualing the entire guitar neck. IN ANY KEY omit the 2nd and 6th and you have the minor pentatonic for that key. Get a Boss Loop Station and experiment with major chords in that key with a minor pentatonic. Same for the Major scale OMIT the 4th and 7th notes of that key and you have your major pentatonic scale. The Allman Brothers, Blue Sky, Jessica, and so much of thier music is major pentatonic. Mellisa is slow, a good start and it is mixalodyn flating the 7th. A joyful sound decades on. Pratices minor and major penatonic up the next working on a key per week and you will soon see where a minor 3rd exist or a flatted 7th everywhere etc. I hope this didn't stray to far off this threads path. Be well.

JJ

JJ

#6

Something so simple, but it works for me visualing the entire guitar neck. IN ANY KEY omit the 2nd and 6th and you have the minor pentatonic for that key. Get a Boss Loop Station and experiment with major chords in that key with a minor pentatonic. Same for the Major scale OMIT the 4th and 7th notes of that key and you have your major pentatonic scale. The Allman Brothers, Blue Sky, Jessica, and so much of thier music is major pentatonic. Mellisa is slow, a good start and it is mixalodyn flating the 7th. A joyful sound decades on. Pratices minor and major penatonic up the next working on a key per week and you will soon see where a minor 3rd exist or a flatted 7th everywhere etc. I hope this didn't stray to far off this threads path. Be well.

JJ

JJ