Major Pentatonic vs. Minor Pentatonic (The PEOPLE'S Scale!)

In order to talk about the differences between the Major Pentatonic and Minor Pentatonic scales, I want to first make sure that we’re aware of the difference in intervals between a regular major scale and minor scale.

Compared to the major scale, the minor scales’s 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees are lowered by a half-step.

Major scales intervals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
MInor scales intervals 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

The lowering of the 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees of the minor scale gives it a vibe that is more somber, pensive, sad, or badass hard-rockin’. :metal:t3:

(BTW these 7-notes scales which we refer to as MAJOR or MINOR in classical music theory are called Major Diatonic or Minor Diatonic scales.)

What’s difference between a Diatonic (7-note) scale and a Pentatonic (5-note) scale? Remove 2 notes from a Diatonic scale, and you have a Pentatonic scale. Makes sense right? Because, quick math: 7 - 2 = 5.

But which 2 notes do we remove from a Diatonic scale to make our Pentatonic scale? GOOD QUESTION!!!

As I explained in my post about Relative Major & Relative Minor, (and alluded to above in the different intervals between major and minor) THE SOUND of a scale comes from the ORDER OF WHOLE STEPS AND HALF-STEPS.

Music, like life, is all about tension and release, and the half-steps where that tension is created and resolved.

In a major scale the half-steps are between intervals 3 &4 and between 7 & 8. This is where we have our tension and release. The 4 naturally “wants” to resolve down to the 3. And the 7 naturally “wants” to resolve up to the root.

In the minor scale, by contrast, the half-steps are between 2 & b3, and between 5 & b6. The 2 “wants” to resolve up to the b3. And the b6 “wants” to resolve down to the 5.

Interestingly, it turns out that to take a Diatonic scale and make it Pentatonic, we remove the 2 notes where the greatest tension exists - the notes that are a half-step away and beg us for resolution. THIS IS WHY PENTATONIC SCALES ROCK! You can play any of the notes in a pentatonic scale and they’ll sound great.

1, 2, 3, 5, 6

1, b3, 4, 5, b7

Note there are no half-steps in either scale. And in ONE sense, the scales are one and the same, just as Relative Major & Minor Diatonic scales are. So just as C Major is precisely the same notes as A Minor, so also C Major Pentatonic is precisely the same notes as A Minor Pentatonic. (HOWEVER, as we see in the interval charts above, C Major Pentatonic IS NOT the same as C Minor Pentatonic.)

The Pentatonic scale is found in every culture across the planet - Celtic, Asian, African, American, You-Name-It - which is why I say it’s the HUMAN scale. I recommend taking 3 mins to check out Bobby McFerrin demonstrating this:

He only teaches the crowd 4 of the 5 notes in the scale, but they automatically sing the 5th note and they repeat the notes up and down over 2 octaves! He never told them, “oh this scale only has 5 notes” they just knew the scale. Crazy, right?

I’ve already written all the tabs for Major Pentatonic Scales in 1st and 2nd Position. There’s a ton of it you can play without bends, but the bottom octave of both do require the difficult -3" bend.

And just to throw out one more concept on the subject which might come in handy down the road:
1st Pos: C MAJOR Pentatonic = 4th Pos: A MINOR Pentatonic
2nd Pos: G MAJOR Pentatonic = 5th Pos: E MINOR Pentatonic

But the other thing I wanted to discuss in this post is:

In 2nd Position, MAJOR PENTATONIC:
-2 -3" -3 -4 5 6
6 5 -4 -3 -3" -2 (and continuing) 2 -1 2 -2

In 2nd Position, MINOR PENTATONIC:
-2 -3’ 4 -4 -5 6
6 -5 -4 4 -3’ -2 (and continuing) -2" -1 1 -1 -2" -2

Both of those scale work well over the Blues.

BTW - the Blues Scale is derived from the Minor Pentatonic scale with the addition of ONE note, the #4/b5 aka “TRITONE” which on the harmonica is the -4’.

And that’s a good introduction to the subject of the difference between Major Pentatonic and Minor Pentatonic scales. Thoughts? Questions?

Rock on,


Hi Luke @Luke

Great post that all blues harpists know in their sleep – so all of you beginners take note of that!

One thing that I will add, simply for completeness, is how to construct the Major Blues Scale. As with constructing the minor blues scale by adding just one note (the #4 aka b5) to the minor pentatonic scale, you construct the Major Blues Scale by also adding just one note to the Major pentatonic scale: the #2 aka b3.

– Slim :sunglasses:


Hey @Slim - just a point of clarity. All blues harpists certainly play the notes in these scales, but plenty of them might not know the technical names for them. From using their ears or being shown from others “these are good notes to play” they play them, but they might not know the theoretical terms that we are using here to describe them.

Thanks @Slim! And just to add one more piece for the completeness. if you add just the b3 to the Major Pentatonic scale, it’s a scale I’ve heard some people call the “Soul Scale” in 1st position, which is the Blues Scale in 5th Position!

Sorry, I just can’t help myself. Nerd status confirmed. :nerd_face::notes:


Right on, Luke @Luke ! :musical_note:


Hi @Luke
Wow that’s a lot to take in. I’m gunna have to digest this of a couple of days but i’m loving it. I can’t get enough of the theory stuff, it just fascinates me. Keep it coming Luke!