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Chords Belonging to the Major Pentatonic Scale

Question by S.Ghosh
(Mumbai, India)

The C major pentatonic scale consists of the notes in the following pattern:

C -w- D -w- E -(w+H)- G -w- A -(w+H)- C

If the possibilities of formation of chords using these notes are analysed, then the following chords can be formed:

C6 or Am7

My questions are,

1. Are there possibilities of other chords?

2. I have seen people playing and even I play chords which are containing notes outside this scale. Isn't it possible to limit our playing to without accidentals?


Pentatonic scales are far less restricted to a certain chord type than diatonic and other scales.

For example, major pentatonic can be played over both dominant 7th (e.g. C7) and major 7th (e.g. Cmaj7) chords. This is because the scale contains no 7th, therefore it is effectively "7th neutral". The 7th can be defined in the chord played under it.

It's probably easier to look at the intervals of major pentatonic, rather than using a specific key (C major) as an example...

1 -w- 2 -w- 3 -(w+H)- 5 -w- 6 -(w+H)- 1

Since the major triad (1, 3, 5) is present, we know the scale will work over major chords with no extensions.

As mentioned before, there is no 7th, so it will work over any major form 7th chord.

That leaves the major 2nd and 6th intervals of the scale. In chords, these tones often translate to the 9th and 13th tones. Since these are natural extensions of both major 7th and dominant 7th chords, they can also be considered neutral (i.e. even if the chord does not contain these tones, they will not sound dissonant as they are not strictly non-chord tones).

In short, pentatonic scales are pretty neutral scales! That's why they're so versatile.

The only major chords it won't work so well over are altered chords such as the following...

- with a flat 2nd/9th (e.g. C7b9)
- with an augmented 2nd/9th (e.g. C7#9)
- with a flat 6th/13th

This is because these altered tones would clash (sound dissonant) against the natural 2nd and 6th intervals in the scale.

However, altered chords are of more importance for those studying jazz.

The thing to remember is that major pentatonic is just a stripped down version of every other major scale that contains those 5 notes.

The most common scales/modes that contain the intervals of major pentatonic are...

- Major scale (1 2 3 4 5 6 7)
- Mixolydian (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7)
- Lydian (1 2 3 #4 5 6 7)
- Lydian Dominant (1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7)

If any chord you're playing over would work with the above scales, it will also work with major pentatonic.

However, as I mentioned before, major pentatonic is neutral and therefore limited in its harmonic content. It's most commonly used over power chords and major triads because there are no embellishments to accent, such as the #4 in lydian, which would be neglected with major pentatonic, even though doing so doesn't create dissonance.

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