pentatonic scale

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pentatonic scale

Music any of several scales consisting of five notes, the most commonly encountered one being composed of the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth degrees of the major diatonic scale
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pentatonic Scale


a tonal system that has five steps to the octave. The main type of pentatonic scale (the tonal, or natural scale, as well as the Chinese or Scottish scale) has no semitones, and its tones can be arranged in perfect fifths. In this scale, there can be only two intervals between adjacent steps—the minor third or the major second. Characteristic of the pentatonic scale are three-step groups, or tetrachords, that have no semitones (for example, mi-sol-la). Because of the absence of semitones, strong harmonic tendencies are not inherent in this scale. It lacks a definite tonal center—that is, any of the five tones can serve as the central tone. Consequently, five variants of the pentatonic scale can be produced from a single combination of tones.

The pentatonic scale, which has been called protodiatonic by the Soviet musicologist G. L. Katuar, is a natural stage in the development of musical thought. For this reason, the scale (or its rudiments) is found in the oldest musical folklore of various peoples. In its pure form the pentatonic scale is common in the music of China, Vietnam, and other Oriental countries. In the USSR, it is widely encountered in the music of the Tatars, Bashkirs, and Buriats, for example. Elements of the pentatonic system are also inherent in the most ancient Russian folk songs.


Kozlov, I. A. “Piatizvuchnye bespolutonnye gammy v tatarskoi i bashkirskoi narodnoi muzyke i ikh muzykal’no-teoreticheskii analiz.” Izv. obshchestva arkheologii, istorii i etnografii pri Kazanskom gos. universitete, 1928, vol. 34.
Girshman, la. Pentatonika i ee razvitie v tatarskoi muzyke. Moscow, 1960.
Kvitka, K. V. “Ladovye sistemy v muzyke slavian i sosednykh narodov.” In his book Izbr. trudy, vol. 1. Moscow, 1971.
Riemann, H. Folkloristische Tonalitätsstudien. Leipzig, 1916.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.