Read the Episode 56 - 32 Ways to Practice the Pentatonic Scale


Hello, Debbie O’Shea here for another Crescendo Music Education Podcast. Now, I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while, I just had to choose an area that I could go sort of a mile deep and an inch wide. And if you’ve listened to episode two and episode eight, that will sort of make sense to you. Because I’m going to talk about batching the melodic elements to practice the Do Pentatonic scale.

What is Batching?

When I say batching, I’m not talking about batching your teaching so that you’re only teaching these melodic elements, I’m talking about batching your planning and collecting all of your wonderful creative ideas, and storing them for easy access so that when you’re planning your lessons, you want to be able to practice some known melodic elements in a different way, in an exciting way. And I thought, I’m just going to pick something.

I’ve picked the do pentatonic scale, just as an example. That’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to look at ways that you can practice the do pentatonic scale that might just be a little bit different to sing these notes with me. Okay, so we’re talking about singing the scale and how we can practice it. So it’s actually quite specific. But it’s really important that we do this a lot, so that the motifs and the intervals all just become part of the student’s working memories.

So if you haven’t listened to episode two, that’s when I talk about the concept behind batching your planning, it’s worth having a listen to that I think to give you some background. In episode eight, I give you an example of digging down, a mile deep and an inch wide, looking at batching, working out activities to practice rhythmic elements.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 056 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Introducing 32 Ways to Practice the Do Pentatonic Scale

So here we go. We’re going to talk about 32 ways to practice the pentatonic scale. Now I numbered them – 32. So if you’re into numbers I’m going to whiz through, it’s actually not going to be a long episode. But I am going to talk about 32 ways that you can practice the do pentatonic scale.

Now, of course, you can take these concepts, many of them and apply them to different scale types, or more limited range of notes. So, you know, take the ideas, use them in whatever context you’re in. Don’t panic about finding a pen and paper. If you’re new to the Crescendo Music Education Podcast, you may not know that there are some really good show notes

A Quick Note About Read the Episode:

And also, we have a fabulous production called Read the Episode where the transcript is turned into a blog post, I started doing this, my beautiful Katrina does that for me. And I started doing it and I thought, oh, like is this worth the time and the money and I asked some of my Crescendo community and quite a few people said, Oh, I just much prefer reading it then listening. So I guess I’m catering for different learning styles.

I’m much more a listener myself, but it’s beautifully laid out in a Read the Episode.

You can read all 32 of these, some of which really should be sort of sub dot points, but I still thought I’m going to number of them out. So let’s go 32 ways that you can practice the do pentatonic scale, get them in a list somewhere so that when you’re ready to do planning, and you need to practice this scale, you can have a look through and say, Oh, I haven’t done it that way for a while. So here we go!

32 Ways to Practice the Do Pentatonic Scale with Your Music Students

  1. Sing the pentatonic scale ascending

    Some of them are very, very much obvious, but we’re going to go through them anyway.

  2. Sing the pentatonic scale descending.

    So that can be done separately.

  3. Sing the pentatonic scale ascending and descending.

    They can sing the scale ascending and descending, which is the way I get a little bit stuck there. We need to practice it. Let’s just sing it up and down, done.

  4. Repeat the top note, don’t repeat the top note.

    You could sing the top note. Repeat it when you go up. Or you could just sing it this time without repeating the top note. It changes it quite dramatically depending if you repeat the top note or not.

  5. Sing in canon in two groups, the second part beginning when the first part sings mi.

    You can sing it in canon in two groups. The second part beginning when the first part starts on “mi”. It works lovely going up there, up and down. I like getting the first group to hold the “do” while the second group joins them.

  6. Sing in Canon in three or four groups.

    Sing in canon in three or four groups, much more difficult, and of course, all of these start out with the teacher being one of the groups. So teacher versus class and then you know, make it more difficult.

  7. Smaller groups, pairs or individuals sing in canon.

    Then you can perform in canon in smaller groups, pairs, or individuals singing in canon in two-part canon, three-part canon, four-part canon, any of those things.

  8. Sing in canon while handsigning the second part. Swap parts so that students also handsign first. 

    Sing in canon while hand-signing the second part. So start with teacher versus class and then divide the class into two groups.

    So swap the parts so that the students sometimes have to hand sign first and sometimes have to sing first, this is really advanced, but it’s very good for the students to at least try, we all know that we grow when we work in our discomfort zone, not too far in our discomfort zone, just a bit in it.

    Okay, so we do that. So your hands signing the other part, the part you’re not singing.

  9. Sing and show the canon with handsigns with no one singing the second part. This leads the students to inner hear the part that is not heard.

    We actually sing and show the canon with hand signs. But nobody is singing the second part, this leads the children to inner hear, the part that’s not heard, and of course swap.

    So you want the hand sign to go first sometimes, and then the singing that ones loads of fun.

  10. Sing with a pedal point. Try do then so. Perform in two groups, small groups or individuals.

    Sing with a pedal point. So try doing “do” and then you can try “so” as well. “Do” is my favourite for that. You can play or sing the pedal point, you can perform it in two groups, small groups, individuals, the teacher can hold the pedal point, there’s just a lot you can do with that.

    What this does is it really helps their intonation, it helps them to hear the intervals really clearly and to sing together as a group better, I think so singing with a pedal point. Even this one you can play around with to get several out of the one point, pedal point. One point pedal point. Mmmm, Okay, back to business, Debbie.

  11. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is given by the teacher.

    Okay, this next one is a little group, which are numbered separately, even though they could have been sub points, but just the number is more impressive if they’re numbered separately. So 11 – Sing with a rhythmic ostinato given by the teacher. So fairly straightforward, give them a rhythmic ostinato they perform that and sing.

  12. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is read from flashcards

    They could also sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is read from flashcards as they’re performing, that’s much more difficult.

  13. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is read from flashcards changing the card at various intervals as the scale is sung repeatedly. 

    Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that’s read from flashcards and you change the card every now and then at various intervals. As the scale is sung, you need to sing the scale repeatedly to do this, to feel the ostinato really working with the scale and then change the flashcard. Fabulous keep them on their toes.

  14. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is created orally by students.

    You could also sing with a rhythmic ostinato that’s created orally by the students, get them to make something up, away you go, next person make up one, we’ll do this one.

  15. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is written by students.

    See that’s quite different to just getting them to create it on the spot, almost improvised, do it orally, get them to write them on little mini whiteboards and hold up the whiteboard, let’s do this one.

  16. Sing with a rhythmic ostinato that is performed in two or three groups with each group reading a different flashcard as the ostinato.

    So get them to write with a rhythmic ostinato that’s performed in two or three groups, with each group reading a different flashcard as the ostinato you could even use the ones that the students have written it doesn’t have to be a beautifully produced flashcard or Google slide or whatever get the kids these ones that the children have written get them to stand in front of a group and each group performs a different ostinato while they’re singing the scale together. Could sound really fabulous.

  17. Sing while performing the ostinato in any of the ways listed above on untuned percussion instruments.

    Imagine that last one with two or three groups performing different ostinati and each group has a different instrument. So this group’s performing with claves, this one’s got bells. This way, you know it could just be really amazing and lovely layered piece of music and it’s the pentatonic scale, the do pentatonic scale. How amazing so yes, add those untuned percussion instruments.

  18. Sing with melodic ostinato e.g. d s, d – teacher vs class

    Here’s my next little batch that really it goes under melodic ostinato So first, you could sing with a melodic ostinato such as “do so do” teacher versus class. So the teacher performs the ostinato, class sings the scale then swap.

  19. Melodic Ostinato – Sing with half class (small group, pair or individual) singing a teacher created melodic ostinato.

    You could also do a melodic ostinato with half class, then go to small group, pairs, individuals singing, then teacher created melodic ostinato. So going down to make it smaller groups and more difficult.

  20. Melodic Ostinato – Sing with half class (small group, pair or individual) singing a student created melodic ostinato – oral

    Sing with half the class, small group, pairs individuals, again going down, singing a student created melodic ostinato, where they just create it orally, they just devise it on the spot, teach it to their class, and away we go.

  21. Melodic Ostinato – Sing with half class (small group, pair or individual) singing a student created melodic ostinato – written

    You can also do the same thing singing a student created melodic ostinato but they have to write it. So they work out the rhythm that they want and the notes they want. And it’s a really good creative activity, we can see some will sound better than others, let’s give them a go and work out why some sound better than others. It’s a great activity on composition and improvisation.

  22. Melodic Ostinato – Sing with half class (small group, pair or individual) singing/reading a melodic flashcard as the ostinato

    You could sing with half class, small group, whatever you’re doing, but they’re reading a melodic flashcard as the ostinato. So you can do this as literally a card that you flash, or a little PowerPoint. You know, however, Google Slides, however you do that, but they’re actually reading the ostinato.

  23. Melodic Ostinato – Sing with half class (small group, pair or individual) singing/reading several flashcards, teaching changing the cards as students sing.

    Change the cards as they’re performing the scale repeatedly. Now, I know you’re probably saying to yourself, Debbie, you’re saying the same things, as you said for rhythmic ostinati, you’re now basically saying for melodic ostinati. Yes, I am. Because I think sometimes we forget, we got Yeah, we’ll stick in an ostinato here. But look at all of these different ways that you can do an ostinato with the scale, it changes the whole task. So I’m deliberately saying this.

  24. Melodic Ostinato – Sing in two or three groups with each group reading a different flashcard as the ostinato.

    Then there’s singing, dividing the class into two or three groups with each group reading a different flashcard as the ostinato, as their ostinato for that group. And we do that at the same time. And I imagine you could play around with that layering it in, it would make for a beautiful performance, actually.

  25. Melodic Ostinato – Sing while performing the ostinato, in any of the ways listed above, on tuned percussion instruments

    It’s all of those melodic ostinato ideas, but add tuned percussion instruments. So there you go. Just all of those there’s so many things you can do. Add them onto those instruments.

  26. Sing in letternames – C, (G ,F…)

    Letter names. So you’ve got C, G and F. C, F, G. Straightaway which you’ve got your white notes, you’ve got no sharps or flats and go ahead and do it in letter names.

  27. More advanced students can sing letter names including sharps and flats.

    Of course, more advanced students, you can sing letter names, including sharps and flats. You know start on D, does that sound right? What do we need? Okay, so sing it in letter names with sharps and flats. So a sharp is adding an ‘eese’ so F becomes Feese and a flat is ‘ess’ like B becomes Bess. So you can sing in letter names with sharps and flats.

  28. Play the scale on tuned percussion.

  29. Play on boomwhackers, one child on a tube sitting in pitch order

    You can actually play on Boomwhackers. I really liked doing this just one child on a tube sitting in pitch order and you just play the scale up and down and they will love to do that. You can have each one just playing even each note, play on a rhythm as they go up and down. You could just have so much fun there and they’re all dying to grab the Boomwhacker, aren’t they? I like sitting them cross legged on the floor and hitting the tube on the carpet but you can have them standing hitting on their hands. You know whichever way you prefer to play your Boomwhackers.

  30. Sing with Intervals – consecutive notes

    Sing with intervals. I think this is really important for your aural development. Sing the intervals of the consecutive notes first, “do re major second re mi major second mi so minor third”, etc. Obviously ascending, descending, and it just adds that automaticity. Hey, that’s a good word. Isn’t it? Automaticity, is that a word? I think so.

    And obviously helps the aural memory and teaches them the sound of that interval. So if they are somewhere and they hear “doo doo” Oh major second do re. Okay, so it helps believe me. I know as an adult when I first learnt this way, it all just made sense to me. And I know that for aural skill development singing intervals was just a game changer.

  31. Intervals from do

    Sing the intervals from “do” . Sorry I’m a bit croaky today. “do re major second, do me major third, do so perfect fifth”, etc. So from do, because you’re getting a whole lot of different intervals there.

  32. Intervals from top do

    Sing intervals from top do it’s important to do descending intervals. And also you get different intervals descending, obviously, then as ascending from top do descending, you will get different intervals.

Remember, you can find the list on in the show notes under podcast, and I really would love to hear from you. If you want to send me an email

Final Thoughts

Let me know what you liked about this. I’m sure there’s many more that we could add, but I thought 32 was enough for one episode. So I will talk to you next episode. Bye.

Thank you for joining me for this podcast. Don’t forget that you’ll find the show notes on Also, you can find the transcripts there. So you’ve got all of the detail that you need. If you found this podcast useful, I’d really love it if you share the link with a colleague. Remember, all I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. We’ll meet again. I hope we will. Bye.


This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

Here’s a question for you. Which country’s capital has the fastest growing population?

Well, the answer is Ireland. Because every day it’s Dublin.

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