The power of five : the unifying quality of the pentatonic scale and the role of music in creating a sense of community and belonging

By Rohini Raja

Communication or language at the heart of its existence in culture is about a feeling of one-ness. It’s role in creating one-ness and a sense of community between people, has been ruled by community agreement. Community agreement is a state in which a community comes agrees upon the meaning and association of words within that said community.

Conflict usually occurs between cultures because of the existence of diverse communities within that culture with differing community agreements. How then does one find a common emotional and cultural language for all of humanity to truly feel a sense of belonging to each other?

Could music be the answer ? 

Music has its own language based on community agreements too. It is made up of 3 fundamental elements : melody, harmony and rhythm. The melodies and harmonies are derived from 12 distinct pitches that are organised into scales.  While there are different cultural expressions of music using these scales, we have discovered a fundamental scale which has universal appeal across most cultures. 

This is the Pentatonic scale; unique scale that is made up of only 5 notes, and yet interestingly, has great unifying powers and cross cultural resonance. Some of the greatest global hits of all time have been built around the Pentatonic scales.

In an interesting session on science and music, Bobby Mc ferrin introduces an unsuspecting audience to the wondrous and powerful universality of the Pentatonic scale. He starts with giving the audience two notes and then has them spontaneously sing the third one. And everyone sings the same note together feeling instantly connected. He then talks about how in every session that he’s conducted across the world he has received this universality of response.

Here’s a thought. With only 5 notes, it is truly possible to communicate to the entire human race in one voice. The power and magic of music and this scale comes alive, in cutting across language barriers and walls that divide and separate us both culturally and emotionally and creating a universal intuitive yet scientific language of communication. This forms a deeply pure and spiritual collective sense of one-ness and belonging in the world that no other medium can truly create.


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