The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Here’s Bobby McFerrin at the World Science Festival last June, demonstrating how deeply internalized and anticipatory (if not truly universal), the language of music can be during a panel called “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus“:


Via Whitney Moses, thanks!

Such a straightforward, playful, simple demonstration! Something about this reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s approach to lectures on music for children, a series that can’t be recommended highly enough to music lovers of all ages.

Watch the full “Notes & Neurons” presentation –of several different performances interspersed with scientific lecture– after the jump.

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 1 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 2 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 3 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 4 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 5 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

11 Responses to “The Power of the Pentatonic Scale”

  1. voiceofwho Says:

    I was there! when Bobby McFerrin did that whole pentatonic scale thing, everyone knew exactly which note to do. it was seriously amazing. actually, i found it kind of hysterical.

  2. Erika Says:

    I totally sang along with the audience lol definately made me happy :)

  3. John C. Worsley Says:

    Not to be picayune, and far be it for a monomaniacal duodecimalist such as myself to draw attention away from the number 12, but isn’t pentatonic a 5-tone-per-octave scale?

  4. Paul C. Mantz Says:

    I’m going to iterate John’s point… the pentatonic scale is not what most Western music is based on. The major and minor scales we know are septatonic, and the chromatic scale (all half-steps) has 12 notes. The pentatonic scale is used a lot in folk music, especially in Asian traditions.

  5. Mer Says:

    Paul, John, how should I reword the post so that it is more correct?

  6. SaraBee Says:

    You could make it a comment on the relative universality of the pentatonic scale… this scale is used all over the world in folk music, and in the video Bobby even says that no matter where he goes, people always pick up on it.

  7. Samantha Levin Says:

    My dearest of music geeks: McFerrin is only using five pitches in his demonstration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentatonic_scale

  8. Jerem Morrow Says:

    I say this a lot here. More often than not. But this is wonderful. Perfect pitch I needed to sustain my day. Thank you.

  9. D Says:

    I worked with a teacher who’d worked with the same group as this artist, I think it was called Roy Hart Theater. Best few weeks I ever had studying acting as a kid.

  10. Mer Says:

    Wording has been tweaked as to be less confusing, pigeonholing and/or misleading. Cheers.

  11. John C. Worsley Says:

    Mer, I like how you re-worded it. :) Sorry to be critical about a rather technical point, I was actually not entirely sure I was correct in my understanding.

    An actual comment on the subject matter: I do love this, that universality of melody intrinsic to our primate brains. Something magic in those intervals that we seek out and identify on such a low level.

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