A Short List of Pentatonic Tunes

An inquiry from a visitor to the Celtic Harp Page reminded me that I never did re-post the list of pentatonic tunes I had up a while ago, so I thought I’d rectify that here. If you can think of any other well-known pentatonic tunes to add to the list feel free to note them in comments. A pentatonic scale is just as it sounds, a scale made up of five notes (as opposed to the 7 notes used by major and minor scales and the classic modes). For example, an example of a major scale would be CDEFGABC, while an example of a pentatonic scale would be CDFGAC. Playing the black keys on a piano will also give you a pentatonic scale. Here is a short list of some well-known pentatonic tunes:

A la claire fontaine (French Canadian )
Amazing Grace
Auld Lang Syne (Scottish)
Derby ram, The
En roulant ma boule, roulant
Git along little dogies (trad cowboy)
Go tell it on the mountain
How Can I Keep From Singing
Il etait un’ bergere (French)
Land of the silver birch (Canadian)
Loch Lomond
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (spiritual)
“Old Chinese Song” by Marcel Grandjany (based on Chinese trad. tune)
Old gray mare, The
Sakura (Cherry Blooms, Japanese)
Skye Boat Song
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
The Cherry Tree Carol
They Stole My Wife Last Night (Scottish pipe tune)
Wha wadna fight for Charlie?
Wayfaring Stranger
Ye Banks and Braes

…. plus numerous other spirituals, Scottish pipe tunes, Japanese and Chinese songs, etc.

Learning to Read Music – Why It’s Easier Than You Think

With Notes on Modern Notation Vs. Tablature
by Tanah Haney

I have, in my perusal of many method and repertoire books for harp, come across several books that use tablature prominently or even exclusively. This is presumably because the arrangers feel that tablature is easier for a new musician to learn than notation. There are also some teaching methods that focus exclusively on aural learning and imitation with beginning students, especially young children. While I would never argue that one approach was superior to another, or that one way would work best for all musicians (hence the “versus” in the sub-title is a bit misleading), I prefer teaching beginners note-reading early on for a number of reasons.

I should point out that my students always start with hand position, exercises, and fun things to do with the harp, all done by imitation and by ear, before venturing into note-reading. Ear training, memorization, active listening, interpretation, and other essential musical skills also remain a central part of the learning process throughout. However, I usually introduce note-reading fairly early on, with all ages, for reasons which I will outline below. In essence, I would argue that reading modern notation is not nearly as difficult as many people think, and can in fact be quite intuitive – the key, as it were, is all in the approach.

First of all, I would like to challenge a central myth or stereotype that has developed around note-reading. While the basic structure of modern notation might seem very mechanical, even mathematical, reading modern notation is neither a “cold” nor “unnatural” experience, and need not be approached mechanically. Rather, in its best form it is a learned intuitive process whereby one can get a sense of a piece of music by learning to recognize patterns. Pattern recognition is hard-wired into the human brain (ever see a face or other picture in the grain of a piece of wood, or a wallpaper pattern, or a cloud?), and musical notation is one of the many ways that we can use this instinct to our advantage.

There is a lot of relative information that can be gained instantly by looking at modern notation, even if you don’t know the exact name of every note. When the sounds go “up”, the notes go “up” too; when the sounds go down, the notes go down. When there is a gap between notes on the stave, it represents a gap between strings or keys. Intervals such as thirds, fifths and octaves are recognizable on sight after a bit of practice. Young children can learn very quickly to recognize repeated patterns in written music, especially if they are first taught relative sight-reading. Relative sight-reading is a skill that can be attained well before the student has memorized all the different keys, or even all the note letter-names. Particularly helpful are beginner harp books that start off by colouring the C’s red and the F’s blue. (Some modern methods have even gone so far as to develop a colour for every note, an approach which can be used with a wide variety of instruments. )