The Pentatonic Scale

  Credit: The University of Tübingen

Credit: The University of Tübingen

The Pentatonic Scale 

 

We know from the fossil evidence that bone flutes from the neolithic era, when replicated, can play the pentatonic scale, a scale used around the world today.  Why might this be so?

As it turns out, if you rearrange the notes like this...

do     sol     re     la     mi

you find that, starting with "do", each succeeding note sounds a fifth - think five keys on piano - above it's predecessor.  Fifths are among the easiest intervals for humans to hear and sing.  (Think of the first line of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; the second "Twinkle" is a fifth higher than the first.)

This simple mathematical relationship between the five pitches of the pentatonic scale means that, with a little trial and error, it's relatively easy to create an instrument that produces pleasing melodies.  This being the case. it's not so hard to imagine a Stone Age musician with a good ear, some time on her hands, and a suitable length of hollow bone, creating an instrument capable of playing a beautiful Neolithic tune.  What's truly astonishing, though, is that her flute can also play Amazing Grace, Summertime, and the theme from Dvorak's New World Symphony!