Composing: Exploring Form Using Minor and Major Pentatonic Scales

In Lesson 1, students were asked to create minor pentatonic compositions using an additive approach rather than adhering to a particular song form. The activities in BANDED Lesson 2 will build on the composition concepts introduced in BANDED Lessons 1, and will lead students on a deeper exploration of pentatonic scales, this time examining the relationship between minor and major pentatonic scales using a variety of song forms to guide the composition process.

Listen to the full recording to hear how they developed this simple riff into an extended composition called "Desert Lights".

Students will gain an understanding of the relationship between the minor and major pentatonic scales, and will develop compositions using song forms found in traditional and popular music.

Materials and Resources:

  • BANDED film clip (* from 4:35-6:54 – GBO/Defining and Solidifying Form)
  • PULSE Pentatonic Scale handout
  • One or a mix of the following: Manuscript paper, Notation software, a DAW
  • Preferred instrument
PULSE Connections (create a PULSE account):

Classroom/rehearsal room settings:

  • Students working alone or in pairs
  • Students in small groups using classroom instruments
  • Students in a variety of ensemble settings (traditional or jazz band; choral; orchestra; string ensemble; modern band – guitar, piano, bass, drums; etc.)
  • Students working with a private instructor
  • Students using a DAW, such as GarageBand, GarageBand iOS, Mixcraft, Soundtrap, Soundation, etc.
  • Students using Notation software, such as Noteflight, Sibelius, Finale, etc.

Instructional Activity Objectives:

1. If needed, review material about the minor pentatonic scale and the ideas for writing melodies introduced in Lesson 1.

2. Introduce students to the major pentatonic scale. Compare the relative and parallel major and minor pentatonic scales.

E minor and G major pentatonic are considered to be “relative” scales because they contain the same notes. The difference is in which note is functioning as the root of the scale.


E Minor Pentatonic Scale


Relative Major:

G Major Pentatonic Scale


Parallel Major:


E Major Pentatonic Scale



3. After exploring the above material, view the clip from BANDED that features the members of the Ghost Box Orchestra discussing their approach to developing the form of their composition with mentor teacher Prince Charles Alexander.

4. After viewing the clip, discuss the following:

a. Song forms are generally made up of a number of different sections that may or may not be repeated. How does the GBO describe the form of their song?

b. What kind of terminology do they use to describe the form of their composition?

5. Introduce students to common song forms found in traditional and popular music.

a. Typically, letters are assigned to different sections of a song, and repeated sections are assigned to the same letter. Some common song forms to discuss are as follows: (links below require a PULSE login)

b. Have students listen to and analyze the form of Lowdown and Aquasordido, two original PULSE grooves in contrasting styles made specifically for this lesson.

      • For more tunes check out the PULSE Song Library. If appropriate, students can also suggest songs for analysis.

6. View and discuss the goals for the composition project located in the downloadable PDF below:

Download the "Composing: Exploring Form using Minor and Major Pentatonic Scales" Complete Lesson with Project Details and Core Art Standards

Download the "Desert Lights" Sheet Music