What name do you call these pentatonic scales?

  1. What do you folks call this pentatonic scale:

C-D-Eb-G-A ?

  1. And how about this one:

C-E-F-G-Bb ?

I’ve known the first as the Coltrane pentatonic, and unfortunately I don’t know a label for the second.

  1. I guess I’d be curious about this one too, just in case anyone knows:

C-E-F-G-B ?

I don’t believe that #3 would qualify as a pentatonic scale as it includes a tritone, F-B.

Hm. Upon further perusal, it looks like there’s more to them than was covered in Music Theory, but I didn’t find any specific names for scales.

1 is sometimes known as “Akebono” (a Japanese scale) or, alternatively, a variation of the “Hawaiian” scale. (I call it “Hawaiian II”)

2 is Pentatonic Mixolydian

I have never ran across 3 as listed, but you could look at it as a subset of a larger scale, such as the Gypsy Hexatonic - 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 bb7
(Or the Mela Mararanjani, also known as Raga Keseri - 1 2 3 4 5 b6 bb7.)

I have a software application I wrote that calculates scales and arpeggios and whatnot, so I have a pretty extensive library of these in an XML file.

I don’t know why you wouldn’t call the third scale an Ionian Pentatonic. I would probably just say “Major 7th Pentatonic” to clarify that the perfect 7th is present.

But be careful: if someone tricks you into playing it backwards, you’ll disappear back to your home dimension.

Whoops. I realize now I read the third scale wrong. That’s what I get for trying to do two things at once!

It’s 1 3 4 5 7 (not bb7, sorry about that). Which I have as Hira-Joshi III.

Pentatonic Major, in comparision, is 1 2 3 5 6 - so that’s a bit of a stretch maybe.

Hopefully I didn’t screw it up further!

I like the competing Greek and Japanese (?) names for the scales. The Greek makes more sense to me, although I wouldn’t necessarily associate the pentatonics with their modal names.

After doing a Google search based on modal names for the scales:

This guy seems to disagree with the modal associations, but I don’t entirely like his system either.

Here’s a similar discussion that actually makes more sense to me, even though it’s a little peculiar.

I’m surprised there isn’t a concrete source out there to refer to.

Any five-note scale is a pentatonic by definition. #1 has the tritone E-Bb, and #2 has the tritone Eb-A.

Phil Rizzo had a great book out in the 70s, I wonder if it’s still available. The name escapes me at the moment. In one section of the book, he lists hundreds of scales along with generally accepted names of same.

In that list. there seemed to be an abundance of Asian and Eastern European sounding scale names, along with Bebop-related names. I think that some music educators publish their own list of accumulated scale names, name a few themselves, and as time goes by, these names gain legitimacy through familiarity.

Because the Ionian pentatonic is CDEGA. The modal names are not sufficient to name Pentatonic scales unless there is a built in pattern, and that pattern is major second, major second, minor third, major second, or 1-M2-M3-P5-M6. You need an addition term to specify that you are instead meaning 1-M3-P4-P5-M7 or you need to name the scale after who or what uses it, or even just what it sounds like.

I’m not sure what that would be. I do not know what music uses this scale, and I don’t hear anything special about the sound, so I can only stick with modal naming. The best I can think of in that respect would be something like Aeolian-Phrygian pentatonic or just Phrygian (vi) Pentatonic (meaning a Phrygian pentatonic scale [i.e. same pentatonic pattern as started from the third major scale degree, hence 1-m2-m3-P5-m6] that starts on the sixth scale degree.)

And isn’t the perfect seventh between the major and minor seventh?

BTW, I know you proposed a name specifying the M7, but it doesn’t let you know that it’s replacing the M2. CDEGB would be just as likely.

I should have said major 7th interval or just “7th” note, there really isn’t a perfect 7th interval, perfect intervals are 4th, 5th and Octave, right? Lots of players, myself (apparently) included use “perfect” as shorthand for “non-flatted. non-sharped”.

Major 7th Pentatonic describes the scale, but I’ll bet a scholarly type would pore over obscure exotic music until a recurring motif was found that mirrored that particular scale form, and name it after that. Balinese scale, for example, though that’s already taken.

I think I remember the name of that book: I think it was “Creative Techniques Used in Jazz Improvisation” by Phil Rizzo. I don’t think that scale was in it, though.

I like the Greek approach, so upon further review, this is what I’m calling the pentatonics (unless someone has a better idea I can latch on to):

  1. A Diminished Aeolian Pentatonic (respelled A-C-D-Eb-G)

  2. C Mixolydian Pentatonic

  3. E Phrygian Flat 6 Pentatonic (respelled E-F-G-B-C)

That’s interesting. I have never heard anyone use “perfect” to mean “natural.” Perfect, as I’ve always heard it used and use myself, refers to the perfectly consonant intervals of a fourth, fifth, and octave. When tuned “perfectly”, these intervals are perfectly consonant and have no perceptible beats when played together. However, in equal temperament, the fourth and fifth are not quite perfect, and are tuned about two cents sharp and flat, respectively, from “perfect.”

I have no idea what “perfect seventh” would mean. ETA: Maybe “harmonic” seventh, which is a tad flatter than a minor seventh?

I also am not sure how useful it is to apply terms from the familiar seven-note modes to pentatonic scales, since if you can pick any five notes from seven a certain amount of ambiguity is inevitable. For example, yes you might call (3) “Ionian”, but then the standard major pentatonic also takes its notes from the Ionian mode. So which one is more “Ionian”?

I suppose you could focus on which are the most distinguishing notes of a mode, but that is a bit subjective. (1) has a minor third and major sixth, and also a major second. If we must apply a Greek modal term to that, I would suggest Dorian is the obvious choice.
(2) has a major third and a minor seventh, so Mixolydian it is.
(3) has major third and seventh so can only be Ionian (not Lydian, because that is a weird one that doesn’t have a perfect fourth).

But again, I’m not sure how useful these terms are. The OP’s scales are all fundamentally different, from each other and from the morfe familiar major/minor pentatonic, with different interval patterns whichever note you start on.

Just as with the scales, Ionian and Major are identical. One is the Greek term and one is the English term. A fair point, however.

Makes sense.

I don’t think anyone’s suggesting Lydian for #3, and I find the Ionian label misleading since most would associate Ionian with the Major Pentatonic of C-D-E-G-A. The problem is that I don’t know any traditional terms to differentiate between the 1-2-3-5-6 pentatonic and the 1-3-4-5-7 pentatonic.

I agree.

For #1 & #3 is C the tonic? If so, then it’s a bit misleading to call them in A or E. For example C-D-E-G-A is either C Major pentatonic or A minor pentatonic, depending on where your root is. If C is the root, it doesn’t make sense to call it an A minor pentatonic.

#2 is also called the “Jan Hammer scale.” Mixolydian pentatonic is somewhat ambiguous, as it can refer to either C-D-E-G-Bb or C-E-F-G-Bb. I prefer the first, as the mixolydian mode has a major third and following the major pentatonic makes more sense to me. Also, the fourth, while colorful, can be difficult to resolve (it is often called an “avoid note” in the context of the major and mixolydian modes.) A second is much easier to deal with melodically, so if I had to pick one or the other, I’d pick the second.

You’re right, “natural” is more correct, but you start saying “Natural” around scales and chords, and somebody hears “Natural Minor”, i.e., Aeolian, and hilarity ensues.

Guitarists and pianists often (in my case, for sure) can’t be bothered with being well tempered, because we’re always a little out of tune by the nature of the instruments. I don’t know how anyone puts up with us.

I nominate the last scale there be identified as the “Major 7th Pentatonic Altered.”
That ought to do it until someone comes up with a legit cite.

I’m going to start calling the 7th tone the Enharmonic 7th, just for kicks.

I don’t like the “altered” in there, as “altered” in a theory context usually refers to an altered tone, i.e. a chromatic substitution for a diatonic tone scale. I don’t see anything I’d call an altered tone in there. It’s just a different type of major pentatonic scale.

And I wanted to add something to my post above on perfect intervals. The unison is also perfect. Forgot about that one, as on piano you don’t play unisons (at least not together.)

Not sure what you mean about pianists as not bothering to be well-tempered, unless you mean that pianos are not well-tempered, but equally tempered (which is the temperament I was talking about.) A piano (and guitar) is usually tuned to equal temperament, although you can tune it a whole mess of different ways if you like, and before equal temperament being the norm, they were usually tuned to some form of well temperament, some variation of mean tone tuning, or something of that nature. There are quirks in it, sure, with octave stretching, especially as you get up the keyboard, but, for the most part, it’s usually equally tempered, as opposed to something like a violin, which, being fretless, can be tuned and played in any temperament you want.


That’s very fair. I don’t always think of scale/chord relationships as being built on the same root, though. A perfect example is using Db melodic minor over a C7alt chord. I do think you have a valid point however, and I’d like to find a concise way to refer to the scale using C as the root.

Doing a search for “Jan Hammer scale” led me immediately to here. Basically, the author calls the Major Pentatonic pattern 1-2-3-5-6, the Minor Pentatonic pattern 1-3-4-5-7, and the combination of the two are a Synthetic Pentatonic pattern, 1-2-3-5-7. He then uses a fourth term of Modal Pentatonic to describe a pentatonic that outlines a particular mode (as an example, the Lydian modal pentatonic is 1-3-#4-5-7).

His system refers to my scales as:

  1. C Dorian Modal Pentatonic
  2. C Mixolydian Modal Pentatonic

He has no term for my #3, but refers to it as the Okinawa scale. Perhaps it could be the C Plagal Modal Pentatonic? C Major Suspended Modal Pentatonic would probably be more precise, but then we’re mixing and matching English with the Greek again. I suppose C Ionian Plagal Modal Pentatonic might be closer, but that just looks awkward.

That’s true, but pentatonics are often used in situations that lack firm resolution, i.e. soloing over one chord. In this case the fourth is used as a color, not a suspension.

Not only are guitarists and pianists playing instruments that aren’t well tempered, (though I said “often”, since I suppose Baroque uses odd temperings that render at least part of the keyboard well-behaved), but most guitarists and pianists are “ill tempered” quite often, so, I think you missed the inside joke there.

When I say altered in regard to a chord, I suggest, most often, a flatted or sharped 5th and/or 9th, or sharped 11th. In Jazz, mostly associated with a 7th chord, (as in a chord with a b7). So, I’ll agree with you about not using altered in the name.

Okinawan Pentatonic sounds good. Goes with the “pick an exotic place that has elements of the scale in it’s native music” method.

While you are using the notes of Db melodic minor over the C7alt, the scale you are using is the C super locrian or C altered scale. (I’m assuming you’re treating the C as the tonic, as this scale is common over the alt7 chord, hence the name “altered scale.”) I wouldn’t call it Db melodic minor any more than I would refer to playing A-B-C-D-E-F-G over an Am7 chord as a “C major scale,” although they both have the same notes. Thinking of it as Db melodic minor starting on the seventh degree is just an easy way to remember what notes belong over an altered chord, as you just have to think: hey, half step up, melodic minor, rather than having to memorize yet another mode.

I do the same thing with certain modes I don’t often play in. For example, for Phrygian, I just think, go down a major third and use that major scale, starting on the third. For other ones, it’s just easier for me to remember the alterations, like lydian is just a major scale with a raised fourth, or mixolydian is major with a lowered seventh. Locrian, which I almost never play, I have to think of in terms of “half a step up, major scale, start on the seventh degree,” so F# locrian I just think in terms of G major.