Eastern Soul

We have something in common, can you guess what it is?

There’s something that unifies every single one of us, no matter what our background, and here it is:

It’s a musical scale – the pentatonic scale, five notes that can be played on the black keys of a piano. The pentatonic scale has appeared in music throughout history and across the world, from Indian raags, to Chinese music, and from Celtic music to African spirituals to mention just a few.

My belief is that these five simple notes are so important to music around the world, because they are part of the fundamental part of what makes us human. Basically every single one of us is born with a relationship to the pentatonic scale, whether we know it or not. Sounds pretty unbelievable doesn’t it? Well, watch this video, it may convince you:

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Pretty amazing isn’t it? But what is it about this scale that makes it so powerful?

Well, I’ve experimented with this scale in one of my own compositions called ‘Its Life’ and what I’ve discovered is that the secret of this ubiquitous scale lies in its bittersweet sound. It works equally well in joyful music as it does in sorrowful music or music about suffering.

I think this divine link between happiness and sadness – the yin and yang – is a really important part of being a human being. Sometimes there is a beauty in sadness – death is a sad thing but, without it, life would probably lose any meaning. Though these concepts are often so hard to accept I think somehow deep down we are aware of this link between extreme states – be it subconsciously or consciously.

So in many ways one could describe the human condition as bittersweet – just like the intrinsic sound of the pentatonic scale and maybe that has something to do with our special relationship with it.

I want to know your thoughts about this, so if you have a favourite piece of music that has a bitter-sweet quality to it, then tell us about it below.


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