Why do we learn the pentatonic scale?

Was on YouTube and wondered why so much store is put into knowing the pentatonic scale.
The only videos I could find were How to and not Why.
If there are eight notes in the regular scale and only five in the pentatonic aren’t we limiting ourselves?
Won’t it just mean we will have to learn all over again later on when we need to learn the other three notes?
I’m guessing I’m missing the point by a mile but are some songs only constructed of five notes whilst others have all eight?

One reason is because the use of pentatonics is ubiquitous in all sorts of music. They’re super common.

I guess the real question is “why are pentatonic scales so commonly used?” I’d say it’s because pentatonic scales tend to focus on the “strongest” notes or intervals within the key. Because of this, melodic lines based around pentatonic scale tones are pleasing and powerful, so people tend to gravitate towards them, even when they’re not trained in music. They resonate. Pentatonics are used all through history for a reason. Check out this video where Bobby McFerrin has the audience singing notes from the scale and they “just know” what the next tone should be:

One could say you’re “limiting” yourself by sticking to pentatonics, but I think that’s a narrow way to look at it. Technically, yes, by excluding other intervals you’re imposing a limitation. However, there are a few things to consider. First, imposing some limitations is often a good way to spur the creative process. So there’s that. Also, learning pentatonics gives you a good “map” of those “strong” intervals within the key, but there’s nothing that says you can’t stray from the path while keeping your “map” or “home” in mind.

I think musicians should learn pentatonic scales because they are very powerful and useful. But I think musicians should also learn the major scale, and so on, as well.


@J.W.C has given you a great answer and I’d like to expand on his first line:

From a historical perspective, the (minor) pentatonic scale is the set of building blocks from which the blues was constructed (I assume the exact reasons for this choice are lost in time). Rock and roll was then an evolution of the blues, and from those two genres, a vast amount of modern music is derived from the pentatonic (in some way).

Edit, Justin explains the above in this lesson:

Even when you consider ‘classic’ acoustic guitar tracks, then you’ll find the pentatonic underpinning a large number of them, for example the introduction to “Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd, is a walk around the pentatonic scale.

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Well said Jason

Welcome to the community Graham

There are only 7 note in the Major and Minor Scales. The 8th note is the octave to the Root note


A lot of folk music around the world is pentatonic which means a huge amount of music. I don’t think people of old times thought about their songs as a limited way of self-expression.

Also, different scales are like different ingredients to music, so one might be more appropriate in a given context than another. Like, imagine Kind of Blue with major scales played over it, it would sound very different.