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pentatonic minor or natural minor scale

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Reputable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 138
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When composing a song, what would be some reasons to use the pentatonic minor scale rather than natural minor? Are the fewer notes simply easier to harmonize with each other and with chords - less likely to get discordant sounds?

And in the realm or rock, is one more commonly used than the other or does it depend on the genre? I guess in blues and hard rock, pentatonic minor (or blues scale) will prevail. But do some other rock or rock-based genres (like heavy metal) predominantly use one or the other? Thanks

Alan Green
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5342

Certain folk music cultures use pentatonics for their vocal lines, others use the natural minor scale. I'd normally opt for the natural minor, it gives you more notes to play with. In fact, though, when writing songs I'd prefer to use the nice and cheerful sounding major scales for my melodies, and the major pentatonic for my solos.

The pentatonic minor is used extensively in blues and rock music, the clash between the minor 3rd in the scale and the major 3rd in the chord being one of the characteristics that gives the styles their sound. Natural minor is also very popular, and myxolydian mode gets used a heck of a lot now so your options are pretty wide.

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
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Yes, using fewer notes minimizes discordant sounds. Using Am as an example, the natural minor is A-B-C-D-E-F-G; the Am pentatonic is A-C-D-E-G.

The two notes left out are B and F. Together they form a tritone, which is a dissonant interval.

It really has little to do with how they're harmonized, though. Most minor tunes harmonize using the harmonic minor scale, regardless of the melody's scale. If you're in a typical Am i-iv-V progression, you're using Am, Dm, and E7; the Dm chord contains an F note, and the E7 chord contains a B note - even though you're using the minor pent for the melody.

The E7 (or simply E major) chord contains G#, which clashes with the G in either scale. That's ok, because the dominant chord has a tension - adding a little bit more right there won't hurt things.

As Alan suggest, if you use either scale over a MAJOR chord progression, you'll get a clash of thirds. That will give you a bluesy sound. If that's what you're going for, you'll get C/C# clashes with the A major chord, and F/F# clashes with the D chord, in addition to those in the dominant chord. If you use the pentatonic, you avoid the clash against the D.

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