• Fifth Day Of Christmas: Five Pentatonic Voicings

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    pentatonic image

    The pentatonic scale is a very useful scale in music because of its common place in many styles of music across the globe (e.g. – the folk music of China and other Asian countries, Nigeria and other African countries etc.).

    Below is the major pentatonic scale in the key of C:
    pentatonic

    While there’s so much emphasis on the melodic potential of the pentatonic scale, this post tends to approach the pentatonic scale from a harmonic perspective.

    The heptatonic (seven tone) scale offers harmonic development in thirds (aka- “tertian harmony“). The major scale is an example of a heptatonic scale. For example, C major scale:
    pentatonic

    …can be arranged into thirds:

    In the arrangement above, there are thirds in between every tone of the scale. The following triads are in the scale above,

    C major

    E minor

    G major

    B diminished

    D minor

    If these triads are arranged scale wise, we’ll have:

    • C major (Chord I)
    • D minor (Chord ii)
    • E minor (Chord iii)
    • G major (Chord V)
    • B diminished (Chord vii)

    It’s clear that heptatonic scales offer harmonic development in thirds. However, harmonic development using the pentatonic scale offers a new perspective because of the use of fourths. Harmonic development in fourths is known as quartal harmony.

    The first step towards understanding the quartal perspective to harmonic development is breaking up the notes of the pentatonic scale into fourths:

    Breaking the pentatonic scale broken down into fourths makes it considerably easy to understand quartal harmony.

    Chord Formation

    The process of harmonic development here is similar to that of tertian harmony. Just like tertian harmony, adjacent notes are not used in chord formation. Use of adjacent notes will yield tonal clusters. The following triads are built off adjacent notes of C major pentatonic…

    …and all of them are tonal clusters.

    If we go about the process of chord formation by skipping one note in each case, we’ll have:

    Most of these triads are built off fourths with the first (C E A) and fourth (G C E) triads as exceptions. Yeah! We just got into quartal harmony.

    Every other triad is built off fourths:

    When I said earlier in this post that we would get into harmonic development in fourths, I meant it. If we take advantage of these fourths by stacking more notes, we can create extended chords. Let’s get into a deeper adventure in harmonic development.

    1st Voicing – 6/9 Chord

    The 1st fourth voicing from C pentatonic scale is C 6/9 chord. The basic way of playing the 6/9 chord is:

    The notes of the C 6/9 above are rearranged in this pentatonic system as

    This is a major voicing and can be used as chord I or chord IV in any key. For example:

    C 6/9 is chord I in the key of C and chord IV in the key of G.

    2nd Voicing – Minor 11th Chord

    The 2nd fourth chord from the C pentatonic scale is the Amin11 chord. The basic way of playing the Amin11 chord is:

    The notes of the Amin11 above are rearranged in this pentatonic system as:

    The root of the min11 voicing above is a fourth below. Once the voicing formula is understood, this min11 chord can be played in all keys. To play this voicing in any given note, play two quartal chords that are a ninth apart. For example, a ninth from F is G:

    (An easy way to remember “ninths” is to think of them as the same note a whole step up but simply in the next octave):

    Therefore playing quartal chords over these bass notes will yield:

    However, you’ll have to remember that the root of this chord is a fourth below (or ask yourself, “What key is F the fourth of?”). A fourth below F is C (or “F is the fourth of C”), therefore, the voicing above is a Cmin11 voicing. Feel free to transpose it to every other key out there.

    3rd Voicing – Minor 11th Chord

    The 3rd chord voicing from the C pentatonic scale is also a C 6/9 chord. Remember the basic way of playing C 6/9 is:

    The notes of C 6/9 chord can be rearranged as:

    The root of the chord is a major third below. Here’s the easiest way to use this voicing in all keys:

    Step #1 – Play a quartal chord on the third tone of the major scale of that key.

    Step #2 – Play a second inversion major triad of the root note over the quartal chord.

    Let’s apply this quickly in the key of E.

    Step #1 – Play a quartal chord on the third tone of the major scale of that key.

    The third tone of the E major scale is G. Constructing a quartal chord over G will yield

    Step #2 – Play a second inversion major triad over the quartal chord.

    E major triad in second inversion…

    …if played over the quartal chord on G will produce:

    The voicing above is an E 6/9. However, considering that fourth voicings are polyvalent (they can have several harmonic identities), the E♭ 6/9 voicing above can also be a Cmin11 or an A♭maj9 [add13] chord. We’ll explore polyvalence in future posts.

    4th Voicing – 6/9 Chord

    The 4th fourth voicing from C pentatonic scale is also a C 6/9 chord:

    The notes of the C 6/9 above are rearranged as:

    This is a major voicing and can be used as chord I or chord IV in any key. Let me break this voicing down for you:

    On the left hand, that’s…

    …a 2nd inversion of the major triad in the key we’re in (C in this case), plus a quartal chord on the sixth degree of the major scale in the key we’re in (C).

    If we apply this voicing in another key [let’s say G♭], we’ll have:

    G♭ major triad in second inversion (on the left hand):

    Quartal chord on E♭ (the sixth degree of G♭ major scale):

    If we put everything together, we’ll have…

    …a quartal voicing of G♭ 6/9 chord.

    Feel free to transpose it to all keys.

    5th Voicing – 6/9 Chord


    The 5th fourth voicing from C pentatonic scale is an Fmaj9[add13] chord:

    The notes of Fmaj9[add13] above are rearranged as:

    Considering that there’s no root in this voicing, this voicing is said to be rootless and there are many occasions when rootless voicing are effective which may vary from playing with a bass player to situations where you’re playing an organ and supplying bass notes with your foot. Let’s round up by covering how to play this voicing in all the keys.

    Step #1 – Play a quartal chord on the third tone of the major scale of that key.

    Step #2 – Play the first inversion of chord iii (minor triad) over the quartal chord.

    Let’s apply this quickly in the key of D.

    Step #1 – Play a quartal chord on the third tone of the major scale of that key.

    The third tone of the D major scale is F. Constructing a quartal chord over F will yield:

    Step #2 – Play the first inversion of chord iii (minor triad) over the quartal chord.

    Chord iii in the key of D is F minor. First inversion of F minor triad is…

    …if played over the quartal chord on F will produce:

    Playing this as chord I in the key of D or chord IV in the key of A♭ will really sound open and jazzier than the regular Dmaj9[add13]:

    Final Words

    I am glad you’ve seen the pentatonic scale from another perspective and that’s a good thing. Before I leave you, can I ask you some direct questions?

    • Are you interested in learning more about chords and voicings? Yes I am!
    • What about voicing formulas and secrets to chord construction and formation in all keys? Yes I am!
    • Are you ready to expose yourself to traditional principles of chord formation that before now, were only accessible by sheet musicians? Yes I am!

    It’s easy to get started. Click on this link to opt in to our early bird mailing list for the most comprehensive course on chords and harmonic structures ever created here.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 zino

    great

    Reply

    2 Chidi

    I love the maj6add9 voicing of GCF on the LH and BbEbG on the RH. It is very open and bright.
    I however looked at another variation of it as GCF on the LH and GBbEb on the RH, which can be switched too. This also has a quartal suspended triad on the LH and a major triad on the RH but instead, I see it as a lowering the top two notes of the LH voicing by a whole tone each, so that GCF will now have C lowered by a whole tone to Bb and F lowered by a whole tone to Eb, giving GBbEb on the RH.

    Great post sir.

    Reply

    3 Paolo

    Hi Jermaine , my friend,
    I follow your posts and newsletters for about ten years and I have formed a binder of about two thousand pages, over the course “300 pages …..” etc.
    last month I printed the series of posts “agreements ………… 16 New Series, and the series” 12 days before Christmas .Ovviamente these posts form a summary rather full-bodied and very comprehensive as You have written and explained in these years and I thank you very much for explanations of musical concepts in them contenuti.R egarding post ” 5th day of Christmas – 5 pentatonic voicings, I must tell you honestly that are literally gone haywire, despite being gone back in time to review the post “the secret agreements that work almost anywhere …. Quartal chords. I would be grateful if in the near future could make another one perhaps easier to understand the operation and use of the pentatonic scale and the formation of chords these agreements.
    I unfortunately have to necessarily refer to what you write, sometimes helping with Google translate, which if translated literally, makes at least the idea and meaning of the whole period. Your numerous videos for me are unfortunately very difficult to follow because they do not quite understand the way you express yourself. coarse use a language appropriate to the English language with interlayers and terms purely ….. slang.
    I’m sorry if I have been very wordy. I expect a full answer soon.
    With all my admiration and esteem.
    Sorry if my English is literal, as you see using Google Translate.
    Sincerely.
    Paolo Gargano – Bari – Italy-
    p_gargano@fastwebnet.it

    Google Traduttore per il Business:Translator ToolkitTraduttore di siti webStrumento a supporto dell’export

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