Some of you have been enjoying a break coinciding with school holidays - it seems that anyone high-school aged was pretty stressed in the last couple of weeks of term with exams and assignments. It's in these times that I'm very happy to have chosen to teach people to play primarily for fun rather than for exams or competitions. There has been one task I've been giving a lot of you in the past few weeks, and I'd like to share it with everyone and try to explain how it works.
The exercise has been to play along with this backing track on YouTube by using any* black key at any time, with the promise that it's impossible to hit a wrong note. (*anything above the middle area of the piano)
For those of you who have already tried it - you know it works like magic! Most of you have been curious as to why it works, and the answer is the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is a five note (hence "penta") scale derived from the major scale. You can work it out in two different ways - use the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes from the scale, or remove the 4th and 7th notes from the major scale and play the rest. Same thing!
The 4th and 7th notes of the scale are the ones that create the most potential dissonance (unpleasant sound), so by removing them from the range of available notes to play, you're left over with the more assonant notes.
In the key of C major the pentatonic scale would thus be C D E G A.
In the key of F# major, the pentatonic scale is F# G# A# C# D#... which happens to be all the black keys on the piano. The backing track I linked above is in the key of F#, so playing the F# pentatonic scale over the top just works.
The pentatonic scale is used to create the melodies of many of your favourite pop songs, most of the notes in your favourite guitar solos, and was coincidentally developed by many disparate musical cultures around the world, which is why playing the pentatonic scale might remind you of some music of Asian origin.
So, even if you're a parent of a student, give this exercise a try! I promise you, you can't play a wrong note.
Things I've been watching/listening to this week: