The number of prehistoric instruments that have been found around the world is astounding. There is even evidence of instruments being found in neanderthal sites. These instruments are almost all based on the pentatonic scale which is a five tone scale still found in African and Chinese musical traditions. The Western European tradition has a seven-tone scale.
The evidence suggests that the pentatonic scale was in use 40,000 years ago. Consider that — not 400 years ago, not 4000 years ago, but 40,000 years ago. A 40,000-year-old flute made out of bone that contains a pentatonic scale should blow your mind.
The Power of the Pentatonic Scale
...as presented by Bobby McFerrin at the 2009 World Science Festival
If there were instruments that long ago then it suggests humans were also singing at the time and probably well before that. Have you ever been around a campfire with family and friends and sang songs together after roasting some hotdogs over the open flame?
That type of campfire experience is wonderful and something tells me that it isn’t much different than what was going on around fires before the last two ice ages. The differences would be no hotdogs and the bearded-beta-male types were playing flutes instead of guitars. The other difference was probably the sex part that followed.
Group sex at summer camp is frowned upon.
If’n you want to re-create this pentatonic campfire experience it doesn’t take much. Go to Ocean Beach, start a fire in one of the fire pits, and then start humming Amazing Grace with your friends — or with strangers. The tune of Amazing Grace uses a pentatonic scale.
Make sure there are no nails in your wood and that it is free of any paint. Ensure that the fire stays within the confines of the pit and is completely extinguished by midnight.
After all, being safe is much more important than being human.
Should you doubt the power of the pentatonic scale and its innateness, follow along in the video with Bobby McFerrin. At the end of the exercise he says that everywhere he goes the audience gets it.
We’ve been getting it for over 40,000 years.