Biology

The Pentatonic Scale: The music of humanity?

The Pentatonic Scale: The music of humanity?

The pentatonic scale is thought to be “the common chorus” of humanity.  This pattern of five notes per octave is heard in the chants of ancient Greece, in the lullabies of the Asian Pacific, and in modern one hit wonders.   Even completely isolated ancient cultures share this common scale.

Why is this scale so foundational?  Could this be due to some common lineage, a global phenomenon, or audio-mathematical symmetry?  Perhaps the use of this scale can shed some light on humanity.

This video is of Bobby Mcferrin at the world science festival in 2009.  At the festival, he preformed an experiment with the involvement of the entire live audience in order to portray the profound effect of this scale on human culture.  Astoundingly, Mcferrin also states that everywhere in the world, audiences react the same to this activity.

This scale could have  more to do with our hearing than our singing.  The human ear can only hear a narrow spectrum of tones.  The most audible of these tones fit within the pentatonic scale.  This might just be why this scale is so core to humanity.  But moreover, this scale has been apart of our journey as humans.  These tones would have been carried by the tongues of men and women through our evolutionary history.  Our ears might have shaped these tone’s range but at the same time these notes have shaped our cultures, our language, and our communication.

 

Is the pentatonic scale the "common chorus or just a party trick?

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