Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is a Pentatonic Scale?

Introduction to the scale at the basis of the Impressionist Period

In this video, Robert describes what's a Pentatonic Scale and how it can be so easily "unique."

Released on January 22, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and, I'm Robert Estrin, your host. Today's subject is, "What is a Pentatonic Scale?" Sounds very complicated, doesn't it? Well, it's simpler than you think, and we're gonna cover that today and see how useful it is for you.

Pentatonic, penta, meaning five. A pentatonic scale contains only five notes. You know, of course, your major and minor scales contain eight notes, and you know, chromatic scales have 12 notes, so five notes, what's up with that? Well, it's very simple, and fortunately we have a piano keyboard. Why is that fortunate? Because you can visualize a pentatonic scale so easily because the black keys of the piano form a pentatonic scale. It's that simple. I don't know if you've ever noticed that if you play black keys they all sound good together, and that's one of the wonderful things about a pentatonic scale. Now, they can be transposed, which we'll get to in a moment, but first I want you to hear what a pentatonic scale sounds like.

That's the whole thing, just five notes. Now, if you take these intervals, you could transpose them into any key. Basically it's the first, thir-, first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes of any major scale. So if you take C major, play the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes, there is a pentatonic scale in C major. And what is so cool about it is that everything sounds good with it.

[piano music]

That's right, you can have a lot of fun with a pentatonic scale, particularly if you're playing G Flat pentatonic because it's black keys. In fact, if you've never improvised in your life, sit down on the piano and just start making something up with black keys. As a matter of fact, if you have a friend handy, have them sit on the bench on one side or the other and play together, and you'll be shocked to discover that you can instantly make up anything and play it together and you cannot hit a wrong note if you stay with the black keys. Then you can challenge yourself and try transposing and play pentatonic in another key. Remember, the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes of any major scale form a pentatonic scale.

That's it for pentatonic scales. I hope this has been fun for you. I'm Robert Estrin here at and, see you next time.

[piano music]
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Dave O'Brien * VSM MEMBER * on October 26, 2016 @2:22 pm PST
That's a great explanation of the pentatonic major scale. What about others - Chinese or Arabic - that sound different?
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on October 26, 2016 @1:38 pm PST
I knew about the black keys sounding all well together, but I didn't know this was a pentatonic scale. Seems to be used a lot in Chinese music, at least by the sound of it, I haven't checked this.
Jan Booth * VSM MEMBER * on October 26, 2016 @8:56 am PST
This video is so uplifting that I'm excited to go try some things with the black key pentatonic scale. I have been enjoying your very informative videos.
Jill Gubler * VSM MEMBER * on January 29, 2014 @9:06 am PST
This is a great explanation on pentatonic scales. Love it!
Joyce * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2014 @8:02 am PST
I think his videos are excellent and very helpful to me as a 69 year old trying to learn the piano for the first time in my life.
wayne russell * VSM MEMBER * on January 24, 2014 @3:53 am PST
What a wonderful discovery! Can't wait to try it!
kevin * VSM MEMBER * on January 23, 2014 @7:10 am PST
Hi Pentatonic video brill..informative simpleand clear...lets have more please
Maria * VSM MEMBER * on January 22, 2014 @8:40 pm PST
What a clear explanation! It all makes sense now.
And I love your shirts!
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on January 22, 2014 @4:49 pm PST
Never too old to learn something new! Thanks!
Hank Schutz * VSM MEMBER * on January 22, 2014 @2:17 pm PST
I appreciate his enthusiasm and his knowledgable explanations.

Question: What's the difference between a piano and a forte piano?
I think the later were used by Mozart and Beethoven. Would they like the sound of today's pianos?
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