Power Pentatonic

The pentatonic world will probably be within the repertoire of most guitar players! But do you know what "Power Pentatonic" is? ... It's pentatonic on steroids using Interval Theory and this opens up many musical doors you can enter to enhance any given story. Let's listen to how this sounds and where to use it most efficiently when composing.

Note: Please note that there are many musical demonstrations in the audio version of this episode, which are not accessible in the transcript.

Pentatonic On Steroids

Today's topic is Power Pentatonic. The goal is to give you a broad-based understanding of the intervals used in the Pentatonic system, application for compositional and performance purposes, and introduce a method of analysis and thinking on guitar.

The Pentatonic system is based on equivalents, equivalents 5+5 and 7+7. What that means is that the intervals in our structures are equal. They're the same intervals; we have a 5-interval plus a 5-interval.
I'm sure some of you are saying, "Well, no! Those are two 4ths!" Yes, they are, diatonically, they are two 4ths. However, from C to F, which is a 4th, has five semitones; that's where the number 5 comes from.

So, two 4ths equal 5+5, this also applies to 7s, which are 5ths in Diatonic music, and they have seven semitones between the two notes, which makes it 7+7.

The major pentatonic scale is a series of 7s, stacked and squeezed into one octave. These tones will now be a pentatonic major scale.

So let's stack these tones to hear five 7s in a row. Now, let's bring them all into one octave and formulate the E-major pentatonic scale. So now, I will play the pentatonic scale in triadic form, using a "skip-one voicing".

"Skip-one" means we skip a scale tone when building our triads. It's a simple way to voice triads on any scale. The exciting thing is that the most prevalent voicing is a 5+5. Unlike major scales, which will have minor, major, and dominant chords, 5+5 occurs in three different places.
Let's concentrate on those 5+5s a bit more!

5+5 and 7+7 are the DNA of the (major and minor) pentatonic scales.

Let me show you how closely related 5+5 is to 7+7. 5s have a position change (PC) of 7, C up to F is 5, F up to C is 7. They are PCs of one another. That is their relationship, and they are strongly connected. So, we'll switch our "Outside Interval" of a 5+5 triad, and we'll get a 7+7. We can move these around almost at will, and it'll sound good.

If our thinking-base is 5+5, any one of those notes in that interval combination (IC) can be moved by one semitone and change the tonality. So let's start with a 5+5 and move the bottom note up. Now it's minor.

Let's go back to the 5+5 and move the top note down. Now it has become major.

So, let's go back to our 5+5 and move the middle tone down or up. In both cases, we have a dominant structure.

Relevancy for Compositions

For compositional purposes, the guitar player has excellent access to these 5+5s, and these tiny movements take you to new tonal centers, which are great for writing songs.

Now, do you remember earlier in this episode, we stacked 7+7s and did this five times. If we add two more, guess what we get? The Lydian mode.

Here's a great fact for you: Did you know the Lydian mode contains three major and three minor pentatonic scales?

So an E-Lydian will also have an E-pentatonic major, F#-pentatonic major, and a B-pentatonic major scale. It could also be stacking 5s, and we would just go the opposite direction and still get a Lydian mode.

I should point out that if you did stack 5s in the opposite direction, you would get a Bb Lydian scale. Bb is related to E by exactly half an octave or six semitones. This is also good to know should you want to move into Polytonality.

Musical Demonstration

Orchestrating on the guitar is a super-skill. It's rare that a guitarist really understands how to orchestrate the guitar. Understanding the skip-one, skip-two, and skip-three voicings is very important because the way you voice your chords leaves space for another guitar to play right through the chord. Let's play the major pentatonic in G with skip-one voicings.

Now let's use skip-two.

And lastly, skip-three.

Now, I'll arpeggiate each one, back to back, so you can really hear how the voices open up. Using these vertical voicings, let's put a little sketch together. Let's add bass and a little bit of a drum groove. That's really a refreshing little groove and sound. How about adding a little melody to that group?

This little piece of music was reasonably easy to do. We took the pentatonic, skip-one voicing, put a little comping pattern down, gave us a nice feel, added bass and a drum groove, and finally, it was easy to play a little solo guitar on top of everything.

By the way, this would have sounded just as great with a really nice acoustic guitar. It doesn't have to be rock and roll or any style. If you added resolutions to the pentatonic voicings and used the outside intervals for your lines, you'd get some cool, almost Baroque sounds.

Pentatonic flavors can be mixed with almost any other musical style.

Well, that concludes our episode today. Thank you very much for listening. I really hope that you enjoyed this adventure into the world of Power Pentatonic. If so, please consider becoming a member of the academy and unleash all the resources that will help you boost your writing skills and sound more original.

So until next time, this is TC saying thanks and best always.


Pentatonic sounds are almost universal and appear in every culture, and therefore, speak to a huge audience. Take some time to figure out your unique way of using the knowledge from this episode to sound more original.

Author: Thomas Chase Jones