Making Lemonade with Beyonce and the pentatonic scale

I fell in love with Beyoncé’s 2016 album Lemonade on my very first listen. Artistically and stylistically she stretched herself (again). It’s refreshing when megastars fearlessly push musical envelopes.

But even when Queen Bae is pushing the envelope she still retains elements of a signature sound. I’ve analysed some of her previous singles before (especially the marvelous If I Were a Boy, a composition from her I Am…Sasha Fierce record), but I’ve never looked at an entire record at once. That changed with Lemonade

I thought I’d share my biggest impression with you – and that is Beyoncé’s use of the pentatonic scale to craft her melodies, especially her hooks.

The major consist of 7 notes. We’ve sung them a million times. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7…and then it starts over again (in other words, instead of going to “8” the scale begins again on “1”, as in: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7…1 2 3 4 5 6 7…etc.).

A pentatonic scale removes 2 of those 7 notes. Leaving 1 2 3 5 6, for a major pentatonic scale, putting those notes in this order 6 1 2 3 5 creates a minor pentatonic scale (for the advanced music theory readers, the minor pentatonic scale is actually 1 b3 4 5 b7…but I want to keep it easy for those just starting out, so I’m going to reference the minor keys to the relative major key).

These two scales, major and minor pentatonic, are the backbone of the majority of the hooks on Lemonade. Let’s go through the tracks. I’ll write her melody notes as numbers so you can plunk them out on the keyboard.

Track 1: Pray You Catch Me – 6 5 3 1 2 3 2 – “Pray to catch you whispering”. The entire chorus is based on a descending major pentatonic scale in the key of B (Key of Bae?).

Track 2: Hold Up – 6 1 1 1 7 7 7 7 7 6 – “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you”. 5 7 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 – “Slow down, they don’t love you like I love you”. The hook is based on a pentatonic scale with a 7th degree thrown in (I supposed that with the 7, it’s no longer a pentatonic scale, but once you’ve seen her pattern in other songs, the pentatonic influence is unmistakable).

Beyoncé – Hold Up 

Track 3: Don’t Hurt Yourself – 3 3 5 6 2 1 6 6 2 1 6 6 – “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself, don’t hurt yourself”. This is definitely a minor pentatonic scale.

Track 4: Sorry – 6 1 6 5 3 5 3 2 – “Now you want to say you’re sorry”. Bonus: the following section “I ain’t thinking bout you” is basically 5 3 2.

Beyoncé – Sorry 

Track 5: 6 Inch – 1 2 b3 2 – “Six inch heels”. On the word “heels”, she bends the 2nd degree up to the b3 blues note and back down. The next line: 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 1 2 3 – She walked in the club like nobody’s business. (Key of Db, or Bb minor)

Track 6: Daddy Lesson – Here’s the first part of the chorus: 3 3 3, 3 3 3 6 6 “With his gun, and his head held high” – 6 5 5 3 1 2 – “he told me not to cry” – 3, 3 2 1 2 2, 3 3 2 1 3 – “oh, my daddy said shoot, oh my daddy said shoot”.

Track 7: Love Drought – 6 1, 6 1, 6 1 2 3 2 1 2 1 6 (5 2 3) – “You, you, you and me could stop this love (drought).”

Track 8 and 9: Sandcastles and Forward – These gorgeous verse/refrain songs have no chorus, but listen carefully, except for a single note in Forward, both songs (including vocal riffs) are brilliantly and entirely contained in the pentatonic scale. Marvellous!

Track 10: Freedom – 3 3, 3 3, (2 1) 6 1 – “Freedom, freedom, (I) can’t move” – 3 3 (2 1) 6 1 “freedom, (cut) me loose” …and then the melody basically repeats!

Track 11: All Night – 6 1 (2 1) – “All night (long)…”. She wonderfully jumps an octave for the “2 1” combination of “long”.

Track 12: Formation – Much of this song is spoken, but when the melody peeks its head above the rap, it sticks to an F minor pentatonic melody.

Ending and beginning score cards:
6 of the hooks start on the 6th degree
4 of the hooks start on the 3rd degree

4 of the main phrases end on the 2nd degree
4 of the main phrases end on the 6th degree
3 end on the 3rd degree
1 ends on the 1st degree

Every melodic hook in every song of this magnum opus is based on a pentatonic scale. Let that sink in. Every melody. If you were looking for a Beyoncé melody template, there it is.


Shane Adams is a twice Grammy nominated music educator (non self-nominated), award-winning producer, composer, songwriter, and author. Shane is president of Artist Accelerator and is a founding lyric/songwriting instructor for Berklee Online.Shane is a featured songwriter and instructor for the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. They honoured him with their TOP TEN HITMAKER award for 2014. He is recognised internationally as a groundbreaking songwriting lecturer and music production panelist. Shane’s current projects include developing two songwriting apps for the iPad platform and producing and co-hosting the songwriting podcast Studio Soundtrack available on iTunes. Shane’s book: The Singer-Songwriter’s Guide to Recording in the Home Studio, is available online and most bookstores. artistaccelerator.com


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