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The difference between Pentatonic Scales and Penta Scales

Mizue Murakami

"Pentatonic Scale vs Penta Scale"

Recently, I've run into someone who was confused about the difference between "Pentatonic Scale" and "Penta-Scale." So, I want to give you clarification.

The term, "Penta-scale" is actually not an official musical term. However, it's been going around and becoming popular in the piano education community last two decades or so. It's because it's quicker to say it than "5-finger scale." But the official term for "Penta-scale," "Pentascale," or "Penta scale" in the English speaking countries is "5-Finger Scale." The 5-finger scale contains the first 5 notes of a full octave scale (8 notes). So, for example, if you want to play C major 5-finger scale on the piano, you would play: "C - D - E - F - G" going up and "G - F - E - D - C" coming back down. The interval from one note to the next is always only a 2nd. To play 5-finger scales, you don't have to cross your thumb under other fingers and some finger over a thumb. And the fingering is the same for all 12 keys. Once you have a hand position set, you can use all 5 fingers to play all 5 notes without moving the hand position. For example, with the right hand; 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 going up, and 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 coming back down.

On the other hand, "Pentatonic scale" is not the first 5 notes of a full octave scale even though at the beginning of the word, you see the spelling "Penta" (5). The pentatonic scale contains 5 notes. But let me give you an example of C major Pentatonic scale: You are going to play "C - D - E - G - A - C" going up, and "C - A - G - E - D - C" coming back down. The intervals are not always a 2nd. Two of them are 3rd. To play Pentatonic scales, you have to cross your thumb under your other fingers and over your thumb with one of your fingers. And each key has a different fingering to play.

Play both 5-finger scale (penta scale) and Pentatonic scale. And hear and feel the difference. You would notice the huge difference. So, that means, it's probably a good idea not to call 5-finger scale "penta scale." Especially if you are a piano teacher, you may confuse your students. You may write an assignment to your student, "Practice penta scales." And your student may mistake it as "Pentatonic scale" for example. This casually used term, "Penta scale" is not a shorten version of "Pentatonic scale."


We have free 5-finger scale sheets in all 12 keys in major and minor. Please visit our Free Piano Exercise page. 

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