Using the Magic of the Pentatonic Scale

 

Ding-a-ding !!!  It is a good thing the bells we play around with during our Kindermusik gathering time these days are all part of a harmonious PENTATONIC scale.  If not, it would have been very hard to listen to the clashing sounds. 

This full chromatic set of high quality children’s hand bells were a delightful find for me, and I was eager to share these beautiful sounds… but I knew if all the bells were out, it would not be a welcoming sound to start a class.  So I chose just 5 bells… ones I knew would sound good when played together. 

This magic of the pentatonic scale makes it perfect for young children and their early music education.  There are many benefits and uses of this scale, for parents and for music educators.

A pentatonic scale is a set of 5 tones in an octave.  There are several types of pentatonic scales, but the magic that lies within it is that all these tones all complement each other.  Play any note, one at a time, for a beautiful melody, or play two or more sounds at once for a beautiful harmony.   

Research shows that this is one of the first scales used in history, and is common in all parts of the world.  Much of the traditional music from the Eastern world is played in a Pentatonic scale, so it may seem to sound “oriental” to our western ears.

An easy example of a pentatonic scale is to play only the black keys on the piano.  There are a set of 2 and a set of 3 black keys that make up 5 notes per octave.  Only play on the black keys, up and down the scale in different octaves, and it will sound as if it was meant to be.

Most commonly used form, the anhemitonic form has no semitones, such as C-d-f-g-a-C.  Note the addition of the same starting note at an octave higher.  (About… Pentatonic Scales).  This is the Pentatonic scale we use in Kindermusik for our young musicians 5-7 years old. 

In the following video, this piano teacher demonstrates and explains the Pentatonic scale very well.

Of course, a Pentatonic scale does not include all the notes you would need to play familiar melodies, like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, but this magic does allow for many other benefits and uses.

Wind Chimes

Many sets of quality chimes are tuned in a pentatonic scale, so when the wind blows, it creates music that is pleasant to hear.  Even wind cannot play it wrong.

Instruments for our Littlest Music Makers

The best pitched instruments for very young children are tuned to pentatonic scale.  Young children not yet ready to play melodies still like to create music that sounds good.   

For example, this steel drum has six raised spots that are tuned to the five notes in the pentatonic scale, plus one that is tuned an octave above the lowest pitch.  .

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Most children’s “xylophones” sport an entire C Major scale, which is the most common scale used in the western world.  But not all of the notes sound good together.  A xylophone (wooden keys) or glockenspiel (metal keys) which only includes pitches in a pentatonic scale allows a child to play around with the melodies, and allows the tones to blend together freely.

There are quality instruments in a Pentatonic scale made for children, including stringed instruments in the style of a Lyre.  Myriad has a good variety, and an extended explanation http://myriadonline.co.uk/pentatonic-musical-instruments.php

There is a musical benefit in using these instruments, in that it helps to “tune” their ears to hear harmonious tones, and more easily recognize when a dissonant tone doesn’t “fit”. 

Music Education for Young Children

As a matter of fact, Carl Orff created instruments that only include the tones of a pentatonic scale in order to masterfully teach young children about music.

In Germany, over 40 years ago, a group of music instructors dedicated themselves to create the best introduction to music education for families who were wanting private music instruction for their the 5 – 6 year old children.  A few children at that age MAY be ready for private lessons, but the majority would benefit from gaining control over some of the basics of music concepts, and an opportunity to build their music playing skills in a way that would set them up for success when they graduate and choose an instrument to play.  The techniques of many of the masters of music pedagogy were incorporated into the development of the curriculum and materials.  Orff’s use of the pentatonic scale, Kodaly’s use of hand signs for different tones, Suzuki’s emphasis on active listening to build audiation, and even Maria Montessori’s education methods… such as creating self-correcting materials, allowing student to discover what they need to learn, and the group dynamics that often propel students to work hard along with their friends.

That is when Kindermusik was born.  The program they developed then is now called Kindermusik for the Young Child, with only a few revisions over time.  And still, the first 5 notes the students learn creates a beautiful pentatonic scale; and some of the melodies we learn were first introduced by Carl Orff. 

Of course, we continue to learn all the notes in a Major scale.  They are also introduced to incidentals (the concept of using a sharp or flat tone).  The glockenspiels we use have interchangeable keys, so the B key can be replaced by B flat, and the F key can be replaced by F sharp, allowing them to learn that the same songs can be played in different major scales !

Have fun playing around with the Pentatonic Scale, knowing you sound GOOD, no matter how you play!

 

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