Music Theory

The pentatonic scale is a five note scale, using intervals I, II, III, V and VI. There are several rumors on the origin of the scale. The one I am attached to is the scale was found several centuries ago in Asia from the black notes on the piano.

The scale is used by rock and blues musicians to play lead guitar. One famous lead guitarist that uses this scale is Eric Clapton. Other instruments, such as the Flute, also play the scale to an accompaniment.
What is unique about this scale is the notes in the scale can be played with the chords of the same major key or relative minor key. This inspires the student to be creative in choosing the notes in the scale to play with an accompanist. Students actually go into a trance playing the pentatonic scale while I am playing the chords in the same key.

I also found that the song, “Amazing Graze”, only uses the notes in pentatonic scale for the melody. Students that are familiar with the song are giving an assignment to figure what notes in the scale are used to play the melody. This is great ear training for the student.

Do you use the pentatonic scale, or know something of it’s history? Let me know your thoughts on this amazing scale.

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Whether for beginners who need to understand what an octave is, or for advanced players (and teachers!) who just find it interesting, below is a chart I put together to compare musical notes to natural sounds such as insect buzzes.

In case you’d like to do some of your own comparisons, here’s a link to a chart showing all the frequencies of the notes on a piano.

I like to point out to students that anything moving 440 times per second sounds like the A above middle C. A mosquito sounds a little higher than that; a fly or bee buzzes lower. An electronic hum is usually between an A# and a B, because it is a multiple of the 60 cycles per second frequency of our electric current.

It’s reassuring for students to know that it requires no musical training for our ears to sense when two notes are in unison (which creates hope that one can learn to tune an instrument!) and when a note matches the note an octave above or below.  What we call an octave is a pair of notes, the higher one having exactly double the frequency (or vibrations/beats per second) of the lower one.  Our ears naturally hear this harmony, and also hear the dissonance if the two notes are slightly off from each other.

Do you work with beginners who wonder why two different notes can both be called “A” and why there are only 7 letters in the musical scale?  How do you usually explain this in your teaching?

Without further ado, below is the comparison of natural sounds and musical notes. Enjoy! [···]

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In teaching any students, but especially beginners or when teaching music by ear, it is very useful to be familiar with scales and arpeggios. These patterns help us group notes so that we don’t have to think about each note individually.

For beginners, scales help confirm what it means to play “up” and “down” from one note to another. It’s amazing sometimes how long it takes for some beginners to feel comfortable with “up” and “down”, especially adults who sometimes second-guess themselves.

But there are more scales out there than we usually think about, and they can be useful for students of all levels. For example, beginners can easily work with pentatonic scales, which limit the number of notes they have to work with while still yielding beautiful melodies. Advanced players can certainly benefit from a familiarity with pentatonic scales as they create moods from major pentatonic with a country sound, to the minor pentatonic with its bluesy feel.

The major pentatonic is generally notes 1,2,3,5,6 of the major scale, while the minor pentatonic uses the same notes starting on relative minor, resulting in notes 1,3,4,5,7 of the minor scale.

But that’s only a beginning. Classical major scales, and the melodic and harmonic minor scales are essential learning because they are so commonly used.

Then there are the modes, which may seem to arbitrarily start on different notes of the scale, but also happen to represent common scales from different cultures. They can sometimes be best understood in this cultural context rather than as musicological theory. For example,  [···]

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