Compose a Minor Pentatonic Piece [Easy]
Watch the video which explains step-by-step how to create a minor pentatonic composition in Musescore. Follow the steps in the lesson below!
What is a Pentatonic Composition?
A pentatonic scale is made up of just five different notes.
The most commonly used pentatonic scales correspond to the five black notes on the piano keyboard: F#, G#, A#, C# and D#.
You can transpose these notes to create other pentatonic scales which have the same character; for example by moving each note down by one semitone we get the notes F-G-A-C-D. Or we could raise them up by a semitone to get G-A-B-D-E. The lowest note in the pattern is the key note, so we talk about a pentatonic scale “on F”, for example.
The notes are usually arranged in one of two patterns, to creat a major and minor pentatonic scale.
The intervals (distances) between each note in the major version go like this:
F-G = major second (or “tone” or “whole step”)
G-A = major second
A-C = minor third
C-D = major second
The minor pentatonic scale uses exactly the same notes, but the key note is different. We begin with the two notes that create the minor third interval:
(In fact though, any scale which is made up of just 5 notes is technically “pentatonic”, so you can invent your own patterns too!)
Using the Minor Pentatonic Scale in a Composition
The great thing about standard pentatonic scales is that you can combine any of the notes with each other without creating clashing harmonies. There are no notes in the scale which sound bad if they are played together. This means it’s really easy to write a composition, because you can be sure that whatever you write, as long as you stick to the five notes of the scale, it’s going to sound fabulous!
In the video tutorial, I show you how you can create a minor pentatonic composition using Musescore in literally ten minutes or so. As always, the ideas shown in the video should be treated as a springboard for your own creativity. Writing music to a formula is a means to an end – we encourage you at all times to experiment and be be creative with the ideas presented here!
The composition in the video is built using the following ideas:
- I use the minor pentatonic scale on D, in 4/4 time.
- The piece is scored for flute and piano. The flute has the melody and the piano is simply an accompaniment.
- The form (plan) of the piece is A-B-A, so the first section is followed by a contrasting middle section, then the first section is heard again. Each section is 8 bars long.
- I begin with the flute part. I use a different rhythm in each bar, for variety. At the end of bar 4 and bar 8 I use long note values, to highlight the shape of the phrase. I start and end on D, because it’s the key note.
- The right hand piano part is simply one bar of quavers (eighth notes) which I copy and paste into the next 7 bars. I am careful to choose notes which are not the same as the corresponding flute notes, so that I can be sure some harmony is created. I don’t worry about which notes to pick, as any notes will work!
- I make the left hand piano part by using the five notes of the descending pentatonic scale. I use a dotted note rhythm, because it does not run parallel with the right hand part but will overlap it. This means I will get some syncopation or cross rhythms which will be slightly different each part, adding to the rhythmic interest of the composition. I double up the notes in the left hand at the octave,, to make them stand out more. These five dotted notes are then copied into the rest of the left hand. I’m left with 2 beats in bar 8, which I fill up with a minim (half note) D, because it’s the key note.
- I then copy the entire 8-bar piece and paste it in (use control-C to paste and control-V to paste in Musescore) to fill up bars 9-16. While the pasted section is still highlighted I use the “transpose notes” function and move everything up by a minor third. This makes the contrasting section B.
- I paste bars 1-8 again, this time into bars 17-24. The notes are at the original pitch. I now have a 24-bar composition in A-B-A form.
- Because I’ve used quavers (eighth notes) in the right hand piano part, the last bar seems to stop very abruptly. It’s better to end on a long-ish note value. It’s also a nice idea to repeat the last two bars a couple of times as a kind of “coda” or “end piece” – this helps the listener to understand that the piece is coming to a close. To do this, I copy bars 23-24 and paste them in twice. In bar 24 I then delete the quavers (eighth notes) and replace them with a long note – a semibreve (whole note) D (the key note). The minor pentatonic composition is now finished.
Ideas for Different Pentatonic Compositions
Here are some more ideas to get your creative juices flowing!
- Create a pentatonic canon. Write a long-ish (16 bars?) melody for one instrument or voice. Have a second or third (or more!) part play the same melody but at staggered intervals. Use different pitched instruments for a broader effect.
- Experiment with creating contrasting sections by transposing the pentatonic scale by different intervals.
- Create three (or more!) parts that are different lengths e.g. 7 beats, 11 beats and 5 beats. Use numbers which won’t automatically align themselves (e.g. 4 and 8 will line up every 8 bars). Write a contrasting melody for each part. Copy and paste each part so that the each one is repeated several times.
- Make a beautiful, melancholy melody and write chords or arpeggios for piano/guitar as an accompaniment. Pick any notes you like to make the chords, as long as they come from the pentatonic scale.
It’s really easy to get creative with a pentatonic scale. Because there aren’t many notes to work with, and we don’t “change key” as such, our focus can be chanelled towards other aspects of the music, such as rhythm, texture or timbre. Experiment with cross rhythms, different instruments and the sounds they make. Have fun trying out different combinations of notes together.
Any successful composition is one where there is a plan, and the plan is stuck to throughout. This gives the composition coherence – other people can then understand what’s happening, which in turn builds up feelings of anticipation and satisfaction as they listen. If you don’t have a plan, it can all sound a bit random. While they can be quite pleasant, random pieces can also quickly get irritating because we never get to the “satisfaction” part, where our ears are rewarded with what we expect to happen!