How To Form Major And Minor Pentatonic Scales On Piano

In this lesson we will learn how to form a pentatonic scale (major and minor) on piano. 

We will start with the major pentatonic. A pentatonic scale has five notes per octave. First of all, to put this scale in perspective, let's take a look at the major scale. We will look at a C major scale. The notes of this scale are, C D E F G A B. C is the 1st note of the scale, D is the 2nd, E is the 3rd, F is the 4th, G is the fifth, A is the 6th and B is the 7th note of the C major scale.

C major scale on piano

To form a major pentatonic scale, we use only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale. These notes are C D E G A. There we have it! C major pentatonic!

Major pentatonic scale formula
C major pentatonic scale

We can use another formula to form this scale. The formula is W, W, W+H, W, W+H (whole step, whole step, whole step plus half step, whole step, whole step plus half step). 

Major pentatonic scale formula

Using this formula, we can start on any note and form the scale. 

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However, I think it's so much easier to simply think of the scale in terms of playing notes, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6.

This scale is a very handy scale to learn especially for improvising and playing solos. When playing solos, you can hit any one of these notes, no matter the chord, as long as it's in key, and it will usually sound right. 


Let's take a look at this scale on piano, in all twelve keys.

Major pentatonic scale on piano in all keys
  • The notes the C pentatonic scale as we've seen are C, D, E, G, A, C
  • C# pentatonic: C#, D#, F, G#, A#, C#
  • D pentatonic: D, E, F#, A, B, D
  • For Eb pentatonic, the notes are Eb, F, G, Bb, C, Eb
  • E pentatonic: E, F#, G#, B, C#, E
  • F pentatonic: F, G, A, C, D, F
  • For F# pentatonic, the notes are: F#, G#, A#, C#, D#, F#
  • G pentatonic: G, A, B, D, E, G
  • Ab pentatonic: Ab, Bb, C, Eb, F, Ab
  • A pentatonic: A, B, C#, E, F#, A
  • Bb pentatonic: Bb, C, D, F, G, Bb
  • And for B major pentatonic, the notes are B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B. 

How To Form A Minor Pentatonic Scale

Let's learn how to form the minor pentatonic scale. Earlier, we took a look at the major pentatonic scale. We learned that the major pentatonic scale consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale. For example, the C major scale consists of the notes C D E F G A B. So the notes of the C major pentatonic scale are C D E G A. 

Every key has a relative minor. The relative minor is built on the 6th note of the major scale. For example, the 6th note of the C major scale is A. Therefore the relative minor of C major is A minor. The 6th note of the G major scale is E. Therefore the relative minor of G major is E minor.

relative minor keys chart

Why am I telling you all of this? It's because the pentatonic notes of a major scale and the pentatonic notes of its relative minor are the same. For example, the notes of C major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic are identical. For both scales the notes are C, D, E, G and A. The only difference is that the notes are arranged differently. The first note of the scale is different. For C major, the root note is C and for A minor, the root note is A. 

The minor pentatonic uses the 1st, minor 3rd, 4th, 5th and minor 7th notes of a major scale or 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th of the natural minor scale. 

A minor pentatonic scale formula

This scale is a very handy scale to learn especially for improvising and playing solos. When playing solos, you can hit any one of these pentatonic notes, no matter the chord, as long as it's in key, and it will usually sound right.

Let's take a look at the minor pentatonic in all twelve piano keys.

Minor pentatonic scale on piano in all keys
  • The notes of the A minor pentatonic scale are A, C, D, E, G, A.
  • The notes of Bb minor  pentatonic are Bb, Db, Eb, F, Ab, Bb
  • The notes of the B minor pentatonic are B, D, E, F#, A, B
  • For C minor pentatonic, the notes are C, Eb, F, G, Bb, C
  • C# minor pentatonic: C#, E, F#, G#, B, C#
  • D minor pentatonic: D, F, G, A, C, D
  • The notes of the Eb minor pentatonic are Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db, Eb.
  • Em pentatonic: E, G, A, B, D, E
  • For the F minor pentatonic, the notes are F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb, F
  • F#m pentatonic: F#, A, B, C#, E, F#
  • G minor pentatonic: G, Bb, C, D, F, G
  • And lastly, the notes of the G# minor pentatonic scale are: G#, B, C#, D#, F#, G#

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