The Major Scale as Union of sub-Pentatonics

For many years the Major Scale bugged me // fer sure, I could intuitively noodle using what I thought was the Blues Scale and other non-sense… but, when it came to noodling over a pure (often boring) Major tonality, as in the end/target part of a ii-V-I jazz cadence or just pedaling over I maj, I felt dead in the water // as what I was playing possessed no real “motion” … I knew I was missing something important, that feeling became especially strong when comparing what I was doing to masters like Vince Guaraldi and Sonny Greenwich, who always play beautifully and purposefully over I maj …

one day the sky split open for me when I discovered that the Major Scale could be “regarded” as the union of three Pentatonic scales // something I had never seen in any music book … tho turns out, and I think it’s pretty obvious really, the Beatle’s song “Dig A Pony” uses this concept in the riff portion of the song …

Pentatonic scales are interesting critters in themselves actually … when I was young lad I took 5~6 lessons with Jazz great Mike Gauthier in MTL // I didn’t know much about scales or even notes at the time, but I distinctly remember Mike saying that, as a rule, “we (in Jazz) can add the 9th and 13th to any chord and not change its essence or function” … even tho I didn’t understand it at the time, it’s something I never forgot … many years later I saw that we can conceive of a Pentatonic scale simply as a Major Triad embellished by these two neutral sounding notes // this intrigued me greatly as it seem to supply some basis for application of Logic in an otherwise (cough) “emotive” field …

more recently, I was scribbling stuff down in my note pad when I decided to draw the Venn Diagram (where the basic Logical operation of AND and OR can be visually represented) of the Major scale in terms of the union of the three pentatonic scales contained therein … there are several ways of looking at the outcome of this exercise, one is to see the three Major triads (the ones built on I, IV, and V) as all/each having such possible embellishments … if we draw these Pentatonics as three intersecting SETS, ie., in Venn form, the Major scale now looks like this:

this may seem like a trivial exercise but it says something important about the notes in the scale as far as them belonging (or pointing at) the associated sub-Pentatonics … for example, both 4 and 7 are on the outside, in the sense that they belong to one (separate) sub-Pentatonic scale each, and only one … also, interestingly, there are three “universal” notes which belong to all three sub-Pentatonics // they are 5, 2 and 6

food for thought when improvising in the Ionian mode …


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