The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

10/06/10
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Bobby McFerrin

What Bobby McFerrin does is not an act; it’s spontaneous invention. He peers over the edge of the cliff, acknowledges the void below, and dives head first, buoyed by the element of surprise.

We don’t know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale—or at least the audience’s familiarity with it.

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