Welcome! Log In Create A New Profile

Advanced

History of pentatonic scales?

Posted by JC43 
History of pentatonic scales?
December 07, 2011 10:54PM
Did the pentatonic scales exist before the Greek modes? I'd like to learn as much about the history of the pentatonic scales as possible. Thanks for any help!
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 07, 2011 11:33PM
JC43 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Did the pentatonic scales exist before the Greek
> modes? I'd like to learn as much about the history
> of the pentatonic scales as possible. Thanks for
> any help!

Pentatonic scales are assumed to be ancient, and possibly even prehistoric.

However, if you're looking for an "evolutionary ancestor" to the Greek Modes, it really isn't it.

Evidence on Pentatonic scales is scant and often anecdotal. The only real evidence is their continual use in non-Western (and in some cases, primitive) cultures such as Asia and Africa. Researchers believe(d) that if a tribe in Africa came up with the pentatonic scale in their chanting/singing or musical instruments, then it must be a "primordial" concept.

I personally haven't seen enough evidence to show that there's any one type of "primordial" scale: too many cultures have too many different ones. All that seems fact is that cultures seem to prefer notes that are "close" (m3 or smaller) when they use more than one note in melodic situations. This means that cultures that divide up the octave are going to end up with 5, 6, or 7, maybe 8 tones (not all cultures use the octave as a boundary though).

HTH,
Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 08, 2011 06:59PM
Thanks for helping me out once again Steve!
Ty
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 09, 2011 05:08AM
You guys are talking about scales as if they are and always have been some "thing" that the cats talk about and right down (artificial, in the truest sense of the term), as opposed to what they really are imho, natural consequences of the harmonic series. Pentatonic scales are simply five 5ths stacked together, then compressed into one octave. Our voices, being instruments of nature, can't get away from pentatonic scales any more than they can get away from octaves and 5ths.

One supporting example.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 09, 2011 06:46AM
stevel Wrote:
> Researchers believe(d) that if a tribe in Africa
> came up with the pentatonic scale in their
> chanting/singing or musical instruments, then it
> must be a "primordial" concept.

That would be pretty poor research. The 'primordial' concept doesn't come from that, but from the fact that the scale is common to lots of primitive cultures completely isolated from each other. Any culture can come up with any scale, but for so many to have come up with that scale is what led researchers to come up with the "primordial" idea.

I agree with Ty about the inescapable influence of the harmonic series, but TY, "...simply five stacked fifths compressed into an octave"? What's simple or natural about that? It happens to be that, but that seems a very artificial way to look at it.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 09, 2011 09:10PM
Ty Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You guys are talking about scales as if they are
> and always have been some "thing" that the cats
> talk about and right down (artificial, in the
> truest sense of the term), as opposed to what they
> really are imho, natural consequences of the
> harmonic series. Pentatonic scales are simply five
> 5ths stacked together, then compressed into one
> octave. Our voices, being instruments of nature,
> can't get away from pentatonic scales any more
> than they can get away from octaves and 5ths.
>
> One supporting example.


Love that example! Does that guy have a book or something? Very interesting!

But to rephrase my question to ask what I meant: When did pentatonic scales become recorded by theorists and/or composers and put into music in a more purposeful/artificial way as apposed to the scale just sort of being there due to nature?
Ty
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 01:14AM
@Fretsource, what interval in the harmonic series is the first to yield a different pitch class?
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 03:04AM
Ty Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> @Fretsource, what interval in the harmonic series
> is the first to yield a different pitch class?

Different from the fundamental? The perfect 5th (3rd harmonic).

I'm not disputing the importance of the perfect 5th, or the effect that that important harmonic has on the way we hear music. What's confusing me is how 5 stacked 5ths could have been responsible for that interval preference found in all those isolated cultures.

I'm trying to think it through - so bear with me :)

Imagine a primitive tribe singing notes that sounded pleasing to them. Whatever note they sing, the octave will always sound like a natural melodic companion, as will the perfect 5th because of their prominent positions in the harmonic series. More distant harmonics are unlikely to have any influence, although the 5th harmonic (major 3rd) might just be close enough.

So if the perfect 5th is the only interval to generate new notes that sound somehow like natural companions, does it mean that all the intervals of the pentatonic scale sound pleasing because they are all 5ths of 5ths of 5th, etc.

Switching to notes for convenience, take the pentatonic scale CDEGA

C is their starting point.
G sounds good to the tribe because it agrees with the prominent 3rd harmonic of C. (not consciously heard as such, of course)
D sounds good because it agrees with the 3rd harmonic of G, not because it's the whatever harmonic of C. In terms of C it's the 5th of the 5th.
A sounds good because it agrees with the 3rd harmonic of D - the 5th of the 5th of the 5th of C
E sounds good because it's the 3rd harmonic of A or the 5th of the 5th of the 5th of the 5th of C
Hold on - that's only four 5ths.

Anyway - is that the justification for saying that the pentatonic scale is derived from (octave adjusted) stacked 5ths?
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 06:08PM
Wait, what do you mean the 5 is the "3rd harmonic" or that major 3rd is the "5th harmonic"? I understand intervals but I don't know what you mean with these harmonics.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 08:42PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

>
> That would be pretty poor research. The
> 'primordial' concept doesn't come from that, but
> from the fact that the scale is common to lots of
> primitive cultures completely isolated from each
> other.

The problem is, it's not the *same* scale. They might be "5 note" scales, but in my experience there's a lot of variability between which 5 notes in the octave are being used.

>
> I agree with Ty about the inescapable influence of
> the harmonic series, but TY, "...simply five
> stacked fifths compressed into an octave"? What's
> simple or natural about that? It happens to be
> that, but that seems a very artificial way to look
> at it.

Exactly, and I know you don't want to hear this, but so is seeing the harmonic series as a "generator of scales". Tuning, yes, scales, no.

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 08:54PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
What's confusing me
> is how 5 stacked 5ths could have been responsible
> for that interval preference found in all those
> isolated cultures.

Firstly, are all the interval preferences the same? If they're not, the theory is unfounded.


> Imagine a primitive tribe singing notes that
> sounded pleasing to them. Whatever note they sing,
> the octave will always sound like a natural
> melodic companion,

Nope. Many cultures do not bound their systems at the octave. In fact, many primitive (if I may be so bold) melodies by many cultures do not even go beyond the compass of a 4th or 5th. Some of them have one primary note and one secondary note, and that's all they need.



as will the perfect 5th because
> of their prominent positions in the harmonic
> series. More distant harmonics are unlikely to
> have any influence, although the 5th harmonic
> (major 3rd) might just be close enough.

This is a primary flaw when people try to make this connection. You have to remember that THERE IS NO HARMONY here. No one is singing a note and seeing if another note goes with it or not.

Scales are not resultant of harmonic concepts. They predate harmony by millenia.

The *logical* approach is that a note was sung. The next note to be sung in most cultures is not a 5th away, not a 3rd away, but instead some kind of 2nd. No one, when "building scales", was trying to find an overtone of the previously sung note (because there's no harmony yet) to make the next note "pleasing".

>
> So if the perfect 5th is the only interval to
> generate new notes that sound somehow like natural
> companions, does it mean that all the intervals of
> the pentatonic scale sound pleasing because they
> are all 5ths of 5ths of 5th, etc.

Here's the problem with the "5th" generator principle. Why 5? Why not stop at 4. Or why not do 7 and get a full scale. Or why not go until you repeat the original and get 12 (which is how we get Pythagorean Comma).

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 11, 2011 09:30PM
Here guys:

Baganda music is based on an approximately equidistant pentatonic scale. Therefore, the octave (mwànjo, plural myanjo) is divided into five intervals of approximately 240 cents (2.4 semitones). There is some variation in the interval length between instruments, and it even might vary in one (tunable) instrument during a performance. This means that in an emic description, the scale can be called an equipentatonic scale while on an etic level of description, there might be different variations of implementing that conceptual scale.

Because this music is not harmony-based, chords are not used and only the octaves are consonant.

In Baganda culture, like in many African cultures, the musical scale is not perceived as pointing from "low" to "high" tones but the other way around, from "small" to "large" or "big" tones. Despite this, the notation (created by European ethnomusicologists) used for the music denotes the deepest tone as "1" and the highest as "5".

How do we "stack 5ths" to get EQUIDISTANT notes?

Read this:

[www.sibetrans.com]

While it's modern, the methodology is spelled out.

Check this out:

[www.anaphoria.com]

Look at the PDF under the Some African Scales Found in the Sounds of Africa Recordings.

You'll quickly see that there's one septatonic, one hexatonic, and one pentatonic, none of which bear witness to any influence of the harmonic series. In fact, most of the tunings are flexible meaning no one's "hearing overtones" and picking notes (or tuning the notes) of the scale to match.

The whole mythology of the "harmonic series as scale generator" is unfortunately rampant amongst jazz guitarists, internet surfers, and would be theorists (who with the open-ness of the internet come out of the woodwork) like:

[www.greenwych.ca]

I'm sorry, I'm going with the academics and fact-finding research rather than anecdotal "hey this is what I experienced so it must be so".

I'm sorry, in the real world, scales that have very much to do with the harmonic series are the exception, not the norm (though there are "researchers" who fudge the data to make it appear so for some reason).

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 12, 2011 01:35AM
JC43 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Wait, what do you mean the 5 is the "3rd harmonic"
> or that major 3rd is the "5th harmonic"? I
> understand intervals but I don't know what you
> mean with these harmonics.

JC, harmonics, in physics, are a property of vibrating bodies (including musical instruments and human vocal cords).

Consider an open guitar string (in standard tuning) being plucked. (Let's make it the 2nd lowest pitched one - the A string).

When that string is plucked it vibrates at 110 times per second (AKA 110 Herz or hz)
However, certain portions of the string also vibrate at multiples of that frequency, 220, 330, 440 , 550, etc with decreasing strength. All of these vibrations constitute what's known as the harmonic series. The lowest pitched vibration (the one we intended to produce) is called the fundamental (or 1st harmonic) and the others are called overtones (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc, harmonics). All of these vibrations produce a whole series of notes, but the fundamental is so strong compared to the other harmonics that we are generally only aware of that one note on a conscious level. Unconsciously, the others have quite a profound effect however. It's the relative strengths of all these vibrations going on at the same time that make instruments sound different even when they're playing the exact same note produced in the same way, e.g., a classical guitar and a banjo. Some of those notes can be heard consciously too, if you mentally tune in to hearing them.

However, the point of them in this discussion is the possibility that they will have an unconscious effect on how certain notes and intervals appeal to us - or at least how they would have appealed to primitive (i,e., purer) ears uncorrupted by millennia of experimentation like ours.

Going back to the A string on the guitar. The fundamental (1st harmonic) note (A ) is caused by the string vibrating at 110 hz, the second harmonic at 220 hz and is exactly an octave higher. The 3rd harmonic at 330 hz is a perfect 5th (actually a perfect 12th) the 5th at 440 hz is another octave and the 5th at 550 hz is a major 3rd (actually 2 octaves plus a major 3rd) and so on on and on becoming fainter and less consequential the further you go up the series.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/12/2011 01:55PM by Fretsource.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 12, 2011 03:14AM
stevel Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Fretsource Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
>
> >
> > That would be pretty poor research. The
> > 'primordial' concept doesn't come from that,
> but
> > from the fact that the scale is common to lots
> of
> > primitive cultures completely isolated from
> each
> > other.
>
> The problem is, it's not the *same* scale. They
> might be "5 note" scales, but in my experience
> there's a lot of variability between which 5 notes
> in the octave are being used.
>
I assume that, despite there being many different 5 note *scales*, the fact that only one of them (including its rotations) is common to so many isolated cultures is what led to the speculation about their origin in the first place. The influence of the harmonic series has been considered as a possible factor given that it's present in all cultures at all times. Your suggestion that it's simply because they preferred small intervals, usually no greater than a minor 3rd, seems contradicted by the fact that the scale has no semitones.

> >
> > I agree with Ty about the inescapable influence
> of
> > the harmonic series, but TY, "...simply five
> > stacked fifths compressed into an octave"?
> What's
> > simple or natural about that? It happens to be
> > that, but that seems a very artificial way to
> look
> > at it.
>
> Exactly, and I know you don't want to hear this,
> but so is seeing the harmonic series as a
> "generator of scales". Tuning, yes, scales, no.

Now, why on earth would you think I don't want to hear this? I hope you don't think of me as as fitting your description of having crawled out of the woodwork intent on spreading false information based on pseudo science. (Nah... you can't think that... surely :) )
If you have info that contradicts a popular speculation, then I certainly want to hear it. Actually,Ty's stacked 5ths derived from the harmonic series (of different notes) is the first explanation I've heard regarding how it was responsible for those note or interval preferences found in the pentatonic.
Previous to that it was always vaguely expressed as something like "the presence of this scale in so many separated cultures is thought to be due to the the universality of the harmonic series". I first came across that suggestion in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Music in the 70s - (not usually considered a "woodwork" source.) No source that I had found ever explained more than that. I could see how the octave and 5th could be derived that way and possibly the 3rd but not the 2nd or 6th. Those harmonics are too far removed from the fundamental to have any influence.
So thanks to Ty for providing an alternative explanation of how those distant notes are related as 5ths of 5ths rather than directly from a single harmonic series, and to you for providing objections to that theory. That's what healthy discussion is all about.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 12, 2011 05:33AM
stevel Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Fretsource Wrote:
>
>
> > Imagine a primitive tribe singing notes that
> > sounded pleasing to them. Whatever note they
> sing,
> > the octave will always sound like a natural
> > melodic companion,
>
> Nope. Many cultures do not bound their systems at
> the octave. In fact, many primitive (if I may be
> so bold) melodies by many cultures do not even go
> beyond the compass of a 4th or 5th. Some of them
> have one primary note and one secondary note, and
> that's all they need.

Interesting, but not really relevant. As I said earlier, any culture can come up with any scale for reasons of their own. The question is "What is it about the pentatonic's intervals that appealed to so many cultures?" We can't speculate on why some cultures don't have it, only on why so many do have it. Those that don't have it, or don't bound their scales at the octave can be ignored. Nobody is saying that it's a universal scale, just an uncommonly common one, for which there may be an explanation more convincing than pure coincidence.


> This is a primary flaw when people try to make
> this connection. You have to remember that THERE
> IS NO HARMONY here. No one is singing a note and
> seeing if another note goes with it or not.

> Scales are not resultant of harmonic concepts.
> They predate harmony by millenia.
>
> The *logical* approach is that a note was sung.
> The next note to be sung in most cultures is not a
> 5th away, not a 3rd away, but instead some kind of
> 2nd. No one, when "building scales", was trying to
> find an overtone of the previously sung note
> (because there's no harmony yet) to make the next
> note "pleasing".

There's no system of harmony, of course, but there's an unconscious awareness (albeit basic) of pitch relationships, resulting in some being felt as more natural than others. The same physical principles that govern the distribution of harmonics in vibrating strings are also at work in the muscle control of our vocal cords and in our auditory systems. Resonance is an important factor in how we perceive and produce musical tones vocally. So even if the harmonic series isn't directly responsible for interval preference in music, it has to play an important part somewhere (other than tuning).
>
> Here's the problem with the "5th" generator
> principle. Why 5? Why not stop at 4. Or why not do
> 7 and get a full scale. Or why not go until you
> repeat the original and get 12 (which is how we
> get Pythagorean Comma).

That was going to be my next question to Ty :)



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/12/2011 01:57PM by Fretsource.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 12, 2011 08:30PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> JC43 Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Wait, what do you mean the 5 is the "3rd
> harmonic"
> > or that major 3rd is the "5th harmonic"? I
> > understand intervals but I don't know what you
> > mean with these harmonics.
>
> JC, harmonics, in physics, are a property of
> vibrating bodies (including musical instruments
> and human vocal cords).
>
> Consider an open guitar string (in standard
> tuning) being plucked. (Let's make it the 2nd
> lowest pitched one - the A string).
>
> When that string is plucked it vibrates at 110
> times per second (AKA 110 Herz or hz)
> However, certain portions of the string also
> vibrate at multiples of that frequency, 220, 330,
> 440 , 550, etc with decreasing strength. All of
> these vibrations constitute what's known as the
> harmonic series. The lowest pitched vibration (the
> one we intended to produce) is called the
> fundamental (or 1st harmonic) and the others are
> called overtones (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc,
> harmonics). All of these vibrations produce a
> whole series of notes, but the fundamental is so
> strong compared to the other harmonics that we are
> generally only aware of that one note on a
> conscious level. Unconsciously, the others have
> quite a profound effect however. It's the relative
> strengths of all these vibrations going on at the
> same time that make instruments sound different
> even when they're playing the exact same note
> produced in the same way, e.g., a classical guitar
> and a banjo. Some of those notes can be heard
> consciously too, if you mentally tune in to
> hearing them.
>
> However, the point of them in this discussion is
> the possibility that they will have an unconscious
> effect on how certain notes and intervals appeal
> to us - or at least how they would have appealed
> to primitive (i,e., purer) ears uncorrupted by
> millennia of experimentation like ours.
>
> Going back to the A string on the guitar. The
> fundamental (1st harmonic) note (A ) is caused by
> the string vibrating at 110 hz, the second
> harmonic at 220 hz and is exactly an octave
> higher. The 3rd harmonic at 330 hz is a perfect
> 5th (actually a perfect 12th) the 5th at 440 hz is
> another octave and the 5th at 550 hz is a major
> 3rd (actually 2 octaves plus a major 3rd) and so
> on on and on becoming fainter and less
> consequential the further you go up the series.


Wow, thanks for that load of info! I've heard a lot of talk lately about the "harmonic series" and things like that and was never quite sure what was going on!
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 13, 2011 08:12PM
Fretsource Wrote:

> Actually,Ty's stacked 5ths derived from the
> harmonic series (of different notes) is the first
> explanation I've heard regarding how it was
> responsible for those note or interval preferences
> found in the pentatonic.
> Previous to that it was always vaguely expressed
> as something like "the presence of this scale in
> so many separated cultures is thought to be due to
> the the universality of the harmonic series". I
> first came across that suggestion in the Oxford
> Encyclopedia of Music in the 70s - (not usually
> considered a "woodwork" source.) No source that I
> had found ever explained more than that. I could
> see how the octave and 5th could be derived that
> way and possibly the 3rd but not the 2nd or 6th.
> Those harmonics are too far removed from the
> fundamental to have any influence.
> So thanks to Ty for providing an alternative
> explanation of how those distant notes are related
> as 5ths of 5ths rather than directly from a single
> harmonic series,

Well, they can still be seen (admittedly a thin argument) as deriving from an original fundamental. The "5th of the 5th" (as an interval) is the 9th harmonic of the fundamental. The next 5th is the 12th harmonic. Of course, once you get that high up the harmonic series, it's all somewhat academic.
And as steve says, while the harmonic series has a relevance for tuning and harmony (simultaneous notes), it has a more tenuous connection with scale construction. If these hypothetical primitive tribes did not sing notes together (and AFAIK we have no evidence they either did or didn't...) then the consonances that the harmonic series produces are not relevant.

Eg, if we look at the ancient Greeks, the Pythagorean modal system was (and I'm sure steve will correct me here if necessary...;)) based on the 4th interval (an inverted 5th), bounding a "tetrachord" - a short 4-note scale. The 4th was based on a simple mathematical ratio - because it was discovered (as I understand it) that simple ratios produced notes that were consonant when sounded together. (That implies, of course, that notes were sounded together - in "harmony" - at least for the purposes of scale construction.)
The only factors used were 3 and 2; IOW, a factor of 2 produced octaves, and 3 produced 5ths. A ratio of 3:2 produces what we call a "perfect 5th", while 4:3 produces a perfect 4th. (These ratios could easily have been - and according to legend were - established through simple experiments with stretched strings, pipes, or weights. They didn't need to know anything about vibration frequency, which we know is the basis for it.)
However, the other two notes in each tetrachord were not calculated mathematically (they weren't interested in "5ths of 5ths"). They were determined by ear, and included quarter tones as well as steps similar to our whole and half steps.
Two tetrachords could be joined to make various one-octave scales, which was the basis of the Greek modal system.
(Apologies for any errors here, it comes from a mix of sources, including memories of stuff read nearly 30 years ago...8-). See also the link below.)

The point here is that while it makes sense for certain basic notes, or scale markers if you like, to be set by perceptions of consonance or resonance - such as the octave or perfect 5th or 4th, or even the 5:4 major 3rd (which was not part of early European music, although it may have been in other cultures) - it seems quite likely to me that other in-between notes would be found intuitively, and may not have such simple ratio relationships with the basic tones.
Eg, if we just take the 1-3-5 of a major triad (assuming that as a hypothetical "natural" series of scale marker steps), it's pretty easy to find a step in between 1 and 3, just by trial and error. The "2" needn't be connected with the "5th of the 5th" (or the 9th harmonic, which we know it relates to); it would be quite natural to hit on a note that's roughly midway between 1 and 3.
Of course, we're assuming they would want a note in the middle there, which is another assumption; but if they did, then something very like a major 2nd would be a totally natural thing to find, without any awareness or perception (conscious or unconscious) of a frequency relationship.
When it comes to filling the gap between 5 and 8, again something like (what we call) a major 6th would seem to be a natural step to hit on. A minor 7th might also be - as might a note midway between 6 and m7 - but the appeal of the 6th is that it's the same size of step as 1-2 and 2-3. There's a simple direct logic to it.
IOW, the major pentatonic scale could be hit on as a combination of resonance perception (due to lower order harmonics) and choice based on practical logic,
I'd say it's also highly likely that early music - at least if harmony was not a feature of it, and the human voice was - would not be too fussed about precise pitching, or constant held pitches, but would involve swoops and bends for expressive purposes, at least as contrast to some (arguable) basic fixed pitches, such as a keynote at least.

But generally I think steve's observation that there are many kinds of scales around the world - including many kinds of pentatonic, not related to simple ratios - suggests the major pentatonic is not that special, however common it is. If it had that strong a connection with the harmonic series, if it was generally perceived to be "natural", one might suppose it would be even more common than it is.

Just to throw something else into the discussion here - for the OP as much as anyone else:
[www.midicode.com]
We should bear in mind, there, that the medieval modal system was only distantly related to the ancient Greek one, either through misunderstanding, or deliberate modification.
And another very important thing to bear in mind is that our whole concept of "consonance" - and its cultural value - is inherited from our European Christian culture, which values purity and smoothness of tone: "beauty is simplicity; God is a mathematician"; etc. Other cultures commonly show preferences for "harmonies" that we regard as "clashing" or "dissonant" - such as Indonesian gamelan, where instruments are tuned so that their frequencies interfere with one another (and "shimmer" ) rather than blending. In Africa, too, they like to add rattles to the otherwise smooth sounds of thumb pianos, to "dirty them up".
So the whole premise of primitive cultures choosing a pentatonic scale because of its "consonant" nature - produced by simple ratios between the notes of a major pentatonic - is suspect. There's no reason to suppose they would have wanted anything "consonant" - maybe some did, but some didn't.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 14, 2011 12:12PM
Good points Jon. I like your idea of primary markers like the octave and 5th and maybe the 3rd being chosen for their 'natural appeal' and then filling in the gaps with notes more or less half way - especially with all the whoops and slides lol. It sounds plausible.

I didn't consider the Pythagorans (Pythagoreans?) as, relatively speaking, they're highly advanced and had their own well considered reasons for their interval choices. Gamelan music, too, is pretty advanced AFAIK. The primitive tribesfolk, on the other hand, at any given era are just singing notes/ intervals that pleased their ancestors with no concern for anything but its sound.

As for prehistoric times, I think that, even without evidence, it's safe to say that people did sing together. It's human nature and a strong social activity, with far greater power when people do sing together. No harmony presumably, apart from octaves, which are unavoidable where there's kids, women and men with different vocal ranges.
I was thinking also of African villages you see in documentaries, where the women are singing at the river while washing clothes. You quite often hear 5ths sung harmonically, here and there. They obviously like the effect and I guess they've been doing that for thousands of years. Drones are another example of where there's a harmonic effect always present, just waiting for people to become aware of it consciously.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/14/2011 12:21PM by Fretsource.
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 16, 2011 05:34PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
The
> influence of the harmonic series has been
> considered as a possible factor given that it's
> present in all cultures at all times.


Not necessarily. Remember that some instruments produce little overtones, and others (expecially primitive instruments) produce few *harmonic* overtones.

In fact, what I'd think would be more likely is that if a culture primarily used a marimba like instrument with rather inharmonic overtones, they would be more likely to gravitate to those overtones in selecting additional notes to make a scale.

However, I've not seen any such studies that come at it from this angle (which seems to me the more obvious one).


Your
> suggestion that it's simply because they preferred
> small intervals, usually no greater than a minor
> 3rd, seems contradicted by the fact that the scale
> has no semitones.

Not all of them. There are Hemitonic and Anhemitonic pentatonic scales. And when you divide the scale equally into 5 notes you get something slightly smaller than a minor 3rd (since a minor 3rd divides the octave into 4). Furthermore - and maybe I'm reading your query wrong - they do have seconds and minor thirds (and sometimes half-steps) and those are still "not greater than a minor third" - in other words, most of them don't go C-G-A-B-C or C-E-F-G-B or something.
.
>
> Now, why on earth would you think I don't want to
> hear this? I hope you don't think of me as as
> fitting your description of having crawled out of
> the woodwork intent on spreading false information
> based on pseudo science. (Nah... you can't think
> that... surely :) )

No, I don't. Sorry. I was in "I'm referring to people who think that way" mode and meant you plural as opposed to you yourself :-)


> So thanks to Ty for providing an alternative
> explanation of how those distant notes are related
> as 5ths of 5ths rather than directly from a single
> harmonic series, and to you for providing
> objections to that theory. That's what healthy
> discussion is all about.

The "5ths of 5ths" is how Pythagorean tuning (and the discovery of the comma, etc.) came to be.

One thing that one has to be careful about:

There is plenty of evidence that the Pythagoreans were numbers guys. They were also "numerologists" in the sense that they believe everything could be explained mathematically (and as we've found, they also tried to use them to explain things that have since been found to be incorrect...hmmm...).

What they were doing was RATIOS. The Ratio of one part of a string to the rest:

2:1, 3:2, etc.

These don't produce "overtones". They produce notes. If you use a monochord (like they did) and move the bridge to divide the string in a 2:1 ratio there's no question that it produces a pitch double the frequency.

Do pitches with compound waveforms have a double frequency harmonic? Yes. Can we hear them? Not always - in some waveforms only the odd numbered harmonics are readily discernible. And when we start talking about higher harmonics they can be even less audible. This argument (a frequent one) that "people picked the most audible harmonics" is without basis - because which harmonics are audible depends on the waveform of the sound. Furthermore, strings made of gut are not going to have the most harmonic of overtones which throws another monkey wrench in the works. Pythagorean Hammers - hammers were not designed to ring pure and casting technology for bells is just now getting to the point where they can make the ordinarily inharmonic overtones of metal objects more harmonic.

So it's far more likely they chose "the 5th" not because it was the first different overtone, but because is was the simplest division to make a different note. It also matches tunings that more closely aligned with scales already in use and they likely took this to be an indication that this methodology was "natural". Using the next different ratios (that of the major 3rd and b7) only produces augmented triads and whole tone scales (with comma deviations) so of course they wouldn't match existing scales and likely wouldn't be seen as viable tuning methods.

I think some people don't feel there's a distinction between the overtonal 5th produced by a string naturally dividing itself due to its physical characteristics and the "division of the string" produced by simple mathematical ratios. There's no question there's a relationship there. However, the statement "using the overtone series" implies to me that people are hearing an overtone of a string, picking it out, then finding out how to divide a string to produce that note, or deciding to divide a string at that point to match the overtone. And then to say they're "building scales" from those overtones is an incredible leap of logic to me.

Firstly, if they're going to use overtones, why not use all the one they can hear or produce? I'm sure the playing of harmonics on stringed instruments was discovered long time ago. Anyone with a guitar-like instrument could easily produce many harmonics. So why stop at the 5th?

If people were "making scales from overtones", they would have been far more likely to come up with:

C-D-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C for example (then there's the whole "compression into an octave" thing).

Even if, as I mentioned above, the 5th was seen as the only suitable interval from which to build a scale, you get:

C-G-D-A-E-B-F#

That's Lydian.

One of may favorite "fudges" is when they say "the overtone series was used to generate the major scale (there's usually an implication that the major scale is the most perfect scale within) by stacking 5ths STARTING ON THE NOTE A 5TH BELOW"

Oh yeah, C Major "comes from" stacking 5ths starting on F?

F-C-G-D-A-E-B - yeah, that's C Major. But if you're going to build a "C" scale using "overtones", wouldn't logic dictate you'd at least use the "harmonics of C" for goodness' sake?

The Greek scales were tetrachords. They were bounded by a 4th, not a 5th. If overtones were so important why were they tuned D-E-F-G, D-Eb-F#-G and D-Ebb-Fx-G (diatonic, enharmonic, and chromatic genera approximations)?

Are they taking the D and "stacking 5ths" to get to G?

D-A-E-B-F#-C#-ooh G#.

Maybe they're taking the G, finding it's 5th, and then tuning the lower string down a couple of octaves. I could buy that. After all, they worked from high to low (or "closest to the body" to "furthest from the body").

But they're not coming up with a C anywhere? The other notes - E and F (and various permutations thereof) - where are they getting them?

When they made full scales, they joined tetrachords to produce things we relate to now as modes.

They may have found stacking 5ths as a way to tune some of those modes, but there were plenty of other tuning schemes in use (many variable regionally as in the African examples).

Best,
Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 16, 2011 05:40PM
JonR Wrote:

>
> But generally I think steve's observation that
> there are many kinds of scales around the world -
> including many kinds of pentatonic, not related to
> simple ratios - suggests the major pentatonic is
> not that special, however common it is. If it had
> that strong a connection with the harmonic series,
> if it was generally perceived to be "natural", one
> might suppose it would be even more common than it
> is.

And I'll add that another thing is clear: Even if there is any relation between the harmonic series and scales, we have developed most of our scales (and/or tunings) *in spite* of it rather than to align with it.

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 16, 2011 05:53PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Good points Jon. I like your idea of primary
> markers like the octave and 5th and maybe the 3rd
> being chosen for their 'natural appeal' and then
> filling in the gaps with notes more or less half
> way - especially with all the whoops and slides
> lol. It sounds plausible.

This is potentially true about middle ages harmonic practices. When they started adding the 3rd they called the resulting sonority (what we'd call a "chord") a "split 5th".

However, they immediately split the 5th both ways - C-E-G and C-Eb-G. If the harmonic series were as big a factor it would stand to reason that there would be a favoring of major over minor.

>
> I didn't consider the Pythagorans (Pythagoreans?)

"No one expects the Pythagoreans" :-)

(Monty Python reference)


Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 17, 2011 03:04AM
stevel Wrote:
> "No one expects the Pythagoreans" :-)

Their greatest discovery was the octave. The octave and the 5th, ... TWO! Their TWO greatest discoveries were the octave and the 5th and the Pythagorean comma.. THREE!! .... No one expects the Pythagoreans. Their THREE greatest.... :)

I think it's not useful to include such advanced cultures as Pythagoreans and later medieval cultures as by that time, any influence of the harmonic series is extremely diluted because there must have been countless competing influences. Even cultures capable of building simple marimbas are at a stage where practical considerations are going to influence the note choices.

I'm thinking of a far more primitive time. The earliest instruments (including the human voice) were noise makers and probably the more complex and 'inharmonic' the timbre, the more impressive the noise produced.
A growing awareness of a unique type of noise, that we would recognise as a musical tone, would have come from bird song and also from chance discoveries of blowing through reeds etc. The human voice would naturally be used to imitate such sounds, at first, simply for the sound itself in much the same way that mynah birds do Then, later, human ingenuity would find practical reasons such as signalling between hunters while stalking prey, etc - far more effectively than copying the roar of a sabre toothed tiger. That would be a mighty impressive sound to copy, but somewhat counter productive when stalking a deer.

A gradual awareness of the aesthetic quality of these sounds with regular vibrations, as in bird song, would result in the reproducing of these noises vocally, for their aesthetic quality, rather than signalling or any other purely practical purpose - the first music in effect.

The final factor is NATURAL SELECTION. The human voice is capable of producing a vast range of pitches within its vocal range but by natural selection, certain successive note combinations (intervals) would become favoured, and it would be natural to sing whole strings of these tones featuring those favoured intervals. All pure conjecture and speculation of course - but I've tried to stick with reasonably safe assumptions.

It's impossible to know why any particular tribe or culture favoured certain intervals. What interested the ethnomusicologists was the fact that a significant number of these cultures favoured the intervals of the pentatonic scale composed of whole tones and minor 3rds. The only thing that they could think of that was common to all cultures was the harmonic series. Sure, not all instruments produce exactly the same harmonics, but ALL voices do.
Maybe, it's actually a non-issue and that scale isn't nearly as widespread as those ethnomusicologists made out. They probably had to justify the grants paid to them by The Royal Society to send them to far flung exotic regions - and came up with that story to convince their bosses it wasn't a complete waste of money :)
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
December 17, 2011 06:13PM
Fretsource Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
Sure, not
> all instruments produce exactly the same
> harmonics, but ALL voices do.

Not necessarily. Voices have Timbre too - a blind person knows this.

One thing that has always fascinated me is that one of the simplest instruments - reed flutes, or pan pipes, etc produce fairly non-rich overtones - closer to a sine wave. This is also true of ocarinas and other simple "flute like" or "whistle like" things (compared to strings, reed, or brass instruments). So where are they supposedly hearing all these overtones?

Personally, it think it's more due to mechanism: it's simply easier to manipulate your voice to change to a note "not too far away" from another note. It has to be enough to notice a change (thus small intervals were probably useless) but not so big as to need to produced in a different way (3rds, 4ths, etc.). It's also easier to "target" closer notes - you're more likely to be farther off if you're trying to sing up a 5th than up a 2nd.

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
March 02, 2012 09:54PM
Interesting stuff but I think the roots are deeper as well as wider. I think observation of the mechanics of tone production for early man might be salutary. This includes th vocal chords.
Note the distinction between partials and overtones.
Often earlier music use3d tones somewhat above or below just intonation. Violinists etc have been studied in this regard.
Pythagorus popularized the 5ths scales. After the overtone the 5th is the easiest sung interval? Then it or it’s complement must be divided if the scale is to be elaborated, something like the 3rd is handy for this ( and might tend to drift towards it’s actual place as a partial) but if some divided it by a 2nd or 4th it would allow for threes differing systems. These might coexist compete or merge.
Let’s see: 1 5 2 6 3 > 13569; a most common M pent scale
1b345b7< 152---b6b37415---2637 seems less reasonable but possible
Pents offer great mobility in their effect and are reasonably rich : QV
OT series produces the mix mode no? The LT 7 was a later interpolation?
Our scales go back to 3000bc Sumeria? long ago enough to have infected the whole planet.
Note that the Greeks used the Golden proportion to generate visual art but that parts of the Alhambra were built on a square developed by scribing out a radius from it’s top horizontal rotated to a vertical. This produced a side developed into a arectangle, again a radius was developed creating a taller rectangle and et cetera. The regularity produced a beauty. Now a flute would be easiest to make with random holes but one might almost as easily make one with equally spaced holes. It takes a rather high art to make the holes support an overtone related scale, yet the ancients did.
Further thought might lead to interesting observations…
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
March 03, 2012 01:09PM
wblakesx Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Further thought might lead to interesting
> observations…

Yes, *thought* rather than assumption, just might.

Steve
Re: History of pentatonic scales?
March 04, 2012 09:54PM
I've said for decades that I do music theory ( meaning that very broadly) to keep myself humble...:)
Author:

Your Email:


Subject:


Spam prevention:
Please, enter the code that you see below in the input field. This is for blocking bots that try to post this form automatically.
VPuwW
Message: