A scale in music is a group of pitches that are used together. Scales are often broadly classified by the number of notes it has in an octave. The most common scales in Western music, the major and minor scale, are both heptatonic scales, which means they contain seven notes per octave. Pentatonic scales are most commonly found in rock, blues and some traditional music. These scales contain five notes per octave.
Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale is one of the most frequently used in modern music. This scale is notably one of the most common in blues and rock music. Other styles of music influenced by these genres--like punk, metal and hard rock--also use this scale. Many guitar solos are based on the minor pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale consists of the 1-b3-4-5-b7 notes in each octave.
Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic scale is less commonly used. This scale appears more frequently in country and pop music than rock or blues. The scale has a typically happier feel that most major scales have. The major pentatonic scale consists of the 1-2-3-5-6 notes in each octave.
The Egyptian scale is a pentatonic scale often used to create a tone reminiscent of traditional Egyptian music. It is not the only scale used in actual traditional music in Egypt. As with any style of music, phrasing, composition and rhythm are important to achieve the correct traditional sound. This means using this scale will not automatically sound like traditional Egyptian music. The pentatonic version of the Egyptian scale consists of the 1-2-4-5-b7 notes in each octave.
In Sen (Japanese) Scale
The In Sen scale is the most common pentatonic scale associated with the term Japanese scale. This particular scale is used in the melody of a number of traditional Japanese songs. It is also popular among some jazz musicians, including John Coltrane. The conventions of traditional Japanese and Western music are very different, which means this scale can sound quite different based on the musician playing it. The In Sen scale consists of the 1-b2-4-5-b6 notes in each octave.
The Hirajoshi scale is another pentatonic scale that is most closely associated with traditional Japanese music. This scale has a more minor feel than the In Sen scale, but is otherwise quite similar in tone. This is due to the two scales sharing three out of the five notes in the scale. The Hirajoshi scale consists of the 1-2-b3-5-b6 notes in each octave.