Composing Activities - Pentatonic

The notes you have used so far are based on a standard 8 note scale, starting on F, G or A. To designate the key of any piece of music, it is important to include a key signature at the start. The key signature shows which notes are to be made sharp (slightly higher) or flat (slightly lower) to retain the structure of a major scale, depending on the home key (our starting note in these examples). For more information on scales, visit this web page at Musical-Theory.

Without having to launch into the complexities of western scales and harmony, we are going to base this section of composition on the Pentatonic scale - a series of 5 notes. Depending on your choice of starting note, a Pentatonic scale is always made up of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th note of any scale. In fact, if you look at any keyboard instrument, the black notes are arranged in pentatonic groups! The following are examples of 3 pentatonic scales on F, G and A minor:

Pentatonic Scales

One of the advantages of using pentatonic scales as the basis for a composition is the fact that no accidentals (sharps or flats) are required. Using a mixture of step by step and bigger step movement and one of the pentatonic scales, compose a rhythmic melody. Your melody can start on any note from the scale, but must end with the first note of the scale. Which pentatonic scale is the best for composing your tunes? What does a tune made from the notes of the pentatonic scale of A remind you of? Why do you think this is?

An advanced example

Open a new file in PrintMusic and create 3 melodic instrument staves* and a percussion stave. Using one of the pentatonic scales, compose a tune which lasts for 4 bars (or measures) for the first melodic instrument. Edit your music and insert expression and dynamic markings before saving the file. On the second melodic stave, you are going to write the same tune out again, but this time using notes which are exactly half the value of the original notes. This means that where you used a crotchet you will use a quaver, a semiquaver (1/4 of a beat) instead of a quaver and a crotchet instead of a minim. You should Mass Mover toolfind that you have to write the music twice to make it fit. (You can use the Mass Mover tool to copy bars of music by dragging one bar containing music to an empty bar). The third melodic scale will again contain a copy of the original music, but this time, each note will be written with double note values - a minim instead of a crotchet, a crotchet instead of a quaver and so on. You should find that you can only fit in half of the music. Finally, add a rhythm part on the percussion stave using the patterns which you have previously practiced. Check that you have included appropriate expression and dynamic markings to the music, then save the file. What does the music sound like? Do you like it? Would you change any part of it? The music below is one that I have created using the method outlined above. Click on the music to hear it.

Pentatonic TrioIn this piece, the melody was originally composed for the oboe stave using the pentatonic scale on A. The flute stave uses the same melody with notes which are half the value of the original, whilst the clarinet stave uses notes which are twice the length of the original. The triangle part uses the rhythms Tea-Coffee-Sugar-Milk | Milk-Tea-Coffee-Tea. The flute part would sound better if it was written an octave higher (8 notes up) whilst the clarinet part may benefit from being an octave lower. How would you do this in PrintMusic?

*If you select a transposing instrument e.g. Clarinet in Bb, Horn in F etc., PrintMusic will display the music in the correct key for that instrument to play. To change the score to a Score in C, choose Display in Concert Pitch from the Options menu.

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