Wild Blue Pixel
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This week we begin a new tips series about the Pentatonic Box kalimba.
When I interviewed Andrew Tracey, he summed up his father's (Hugh Tracey) knowledge of African tunings in one sentence: "About 40% of traditional African kalimbas were tuned to 5-note (pentatonic) scales; about 40% were tuned to 6 note scales, and 20% were tuned to 7 note scales."
My friend and astronomical coworker Chris Carilli says that people sometimes spend their entire careers determining a single number. Andrew Tracey's statement tells us nothing of the grandeur, adventure, pain and joy encompassed in the lifetime that it took his father to figure out those statistics.
It is clear that there is something elemental about the 5-note scales but, in fact, there is no single pentatonic scale. There are many varieties of the 5-note scale. For example, the Sansula in standard tuning uses a 5-note Japanese Ake Bono scale - 1 2 3- 5 6- 8, where 3- and 6- are the flat third and sixth, and 8 is the octave of the 1. I am pretty sure there weren't any kalimbas tuned to THIS pentatonic scale in Africa.
But what notes WERE they tuned to?