Take away wrong notes

If you play the note A on a piano and take 12 steps either up or down, you reach another note called A. They look the same and they sound the same. In fact they vibrate at half or double the frequency. You have 12 notes to play with.

Problem: with so many notes available, there are some rules to follow if you do not want to sound ‘wrong’.

Solution: use fewer notes. Here’s how.

Pentatonic scales

Penta (five) tonic (notes) scales are just what they say they are. Scales made up of only five notes. Pentatonic scales are used in most of the world’s folk music.

The two most common pentatonic scales are:
C, D, E, G, A and
F sharp (or F#), G#, A#, C#, D#

This second one is just all the black notes on a piano or keyboard. Use either of these scales and wrong notes are eliminated all together.

Another pentatonic scale commonly used sounds just a bit more mysterious: D, E, F, A, B

You can experiment with your own pentatonic scales just by picking five different notes.


Major and minor scales

Anyone who has ever learnt an instrument will have done battle at some time with major and minor scales.
Major scales sound fairly happy, minor scales sound fairly sad. Three of these scales can be especially useful:

  • C major. This uses all the white notes starting on C.
  • Try it out by holding a long C and then doodling around with the other notes. It works.
  • A minor. This uses all the white notes starting on A.
  • Try it out by holding a long A and then doodling around with the other notes. It works even better than C major.
  • E flat minor. If you use all of the black notes, you have the main notes of E flat minor. It sounds complicated but it can be easier to use than C major and A minor as you just doodle on the black notes.

Making your own scales

Making music with notes restricted to a particular set of notes, or scale, is pretty much guaranteed to avoid failure:

  • Start off using five note (pentatonic) scales.
  • The choice of notes can be adapted to form a very productive class activity.
  • Different sets of notes work in much the same way as different palettes of colours for a painter. Each set will have its own mood.
  • With many classroom instruments (eg. xylophones) it’s easy to take off the notes that you don’t want to use.
  • Wonderful music can be made by mixing different sets of notes. Try making music for Beauty and the Beast where the two characters each have their own set of notes.
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