Let’s explore the sound of the pentatonic scale! In these activities you will get to compare an African American folk song to the “Goin’ Home” melody from the Largo second movement of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, and then experiment with building your own pentatonic melodies.
Below is the basic melody to the African American folk song “There’s a Little Wheel a Turnin’ In My Heart.” Try singing it or playing it if you have an instrument handy. This example is notated for C recorder, but works just as well for voice, piano, flute, violin, glockenspiel, or kazoo. Get creative and try it together with friends, family, or classmates online!
Listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson playing it from home!
The second movement Largo melody of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony is another great example of the pentatonic scale in action. You might recognize it as the song “Goin’ Home.” Try singing or playing this melody. Because we love you, the example here is notated for kazoo and has been mercifully shifted away from its original key of D flat major. You’re welcome.
Listen to Colorado Symphony English hornist Jason Lichtenwalter playing it from home!
Now that you’ve had a chance to hear, sing, and play these two melodies consider the following.
- Both of the melodies used the same pitches. How did the tunes sound similar, different?
- What other similarities or differences did you notice that gave the tunes their own character?
Experiment with building your own pentatonic scale melody using the same pitches – G, A, B, D, E. You might want to decide how many notes to use before you get started - a range of 12 to 16 for example.
- First, if you’re not familiar with music notation you can begin by drawing from left to right a single line contour shape or a staircase shape that goes up and down, and then putting the musical alphabet notes onto it according to how high or low your drawing goes. G is the lowest sounding note, and E is the highest in our pentatonic sound world for this activity. In the examples above we used a staff, which is really just a series of lines and spaces that go up and down just like a ladder. You could experiment that way too!
- Next add a little rhythm to your notes, making some of them longer and shorter in duration than others. Use a familiar rhythm or make up your own. This is all for experimentation and fun!
- Finally, sing or play your melody and compare it to “Little Wheel” and Dvořák’s "Goin’ Home” tune. Consider the same questions above, and pat yourself on the back for becoming a composer!