Nashville Number System Lesson 4 – The Pentatonic Scale

In this lesson, Megan Lynch Chowning discusses the importance of the pentatonic scale within The Nashville Number System. While Megan teaches this series of lessons from a bluegrass standpoint, these concepts also apply to country, gospel, and other American styles of music. We hope you enjoy this excerpt of the course.

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  1. Great lesson!! This is probably a stupid question , but how does the pentatonic scale pattern work in other modes, such as mixolydian, dorian and aeolian?

    • Hey Michael! Not a stupid question at all. But the answer isn’t exactly what you might think. When we deal with traditional music, we generally avoid labeling tunes in terms of specific modes. Most of the tunes that qualify as “modal” don’t even really fit into one particular mode, as they’re defined in classical music. These tunes were generally written by people who don’t adhere to rules of scales and were not trained in that way. When we come along later and try to overlay the rules of classical music onto these tunes we sort of miss the point. Some tunes just have flatted or sharped notes based on what the tunesmith felt sounded good in that moment, (And sometimes those accidentals even change at different points in the tune!) so it becomes difficult to adapt any consistent scale labeling to them. My best advice is that when you spot a tune that has a sort of “modal” quality to it, just avoid the 3 note of the scale and use your ear, rather than trying to follow the rules. Sometimes I even hesitate to use the pentatonic scale because I don’t want to make it too formal. But it is a good way to start your improvisational journey, and when it comes to bluegrass singing songs, which is where I generally use it as an improvisational starting point, you’ll only rarely run up against modal songs. As I have said many times, and I think even say it one of these lessons here, when it comes to traditional music, there are really only three modes. Major, minor, and mountainy! Happy fiddling and thanks again for the question. I hope that helps.

  2. Wow! Thanks Megan . That helps a lot! I was trying to noodle along with some of the irish tunes on the site and my third finger was sounding all wrong!! These lessons are great! I am going through each lesson every few days because I think my brain has been turned upside down!! You are a brilliant teacher!

  3. Megan you have a fantastic way of cutting through to the nitty gritty of playing, I have struggled with motivation after hitting the proverbial wall (I Have tried quite a few online courses), you have helped me push past that and start to enjoy it again. Instilling confidence where it has been lost.
    Thanks so much

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