Physics of Music - Notes

Pentatonic Scales

Pentatonic ("5-note") scales appear in many cultures, and even within some modern Western music (Such as Blues, Jazz, and some Country Music).

There are two common pentatonic scales.

The intervals for the two scales are:

where the numbers above represents the number of half-steps between the notes. You can, of course, create other interesting 5-note scales.

On a keyboard, you can play such a pentatonic scale by using only the black keys. Start on D# for the minor scale, F# for the major scale.

The frequency ratios for these notes relative to the first note in the scale are:

Note Major Minor
1 1 1
2 9/8 6/5
3 5/4 4/3
4 3/2 3/2
5 5/3 9/5
6 2 2

You can play "Amazing Grace," as well as some other simple tunes, using only the black keys on the keyboard. (pdf score).

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