Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Improv Duet - Audience + Bobby McFerrin

[One Year Anniversary Re-post, Part one. Originally posted in March, and one of my favourites if not a fan favourite, so to speak, this is a streamlined version of a topic discussing whether music is inherent or learned. The video is very cool with McFerrin and an audience performing an unrehearsed duet together]

Without warning and with minimal instruction, Bobby McFerrin leads an audience in the performance of a duet. Which leads experts to ask the question:

Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment?



This demonstration of improvised harmony between Bobby McFarrin and an audience happened at the World Science Festival 2009 and shows that humans have an innate understanding of the pentatonic scale in his opinion and personal experience.

Music theory can be a dry subject unless you're a musician and even then the motivation is that you need to know it not that you necessarily want to know it.

The pentatonic scale is basically made up of the black notes within an octive.  Most Negro (Black? African-American?) spirituals are written on the pentatonic scale also known as the Slave scale. Amazing Grace was written on the pentatonic scale. The man who wrote Amazing Grace, while he was actually a white American, was a slave ship captain and was obviously influenced by what he heard on the job. Old Suzanna and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot are other examples.

The five black keys make up the pentatonic scale.

A lot of rock songs also use the pentatonic scale. Let's face it, rock musicians aren't really known for their actual writing skills and it makes sense. If clever song writing were an awesome LEGO set, rock writing would qualify as Primo. You know, the really big easy LEGO pieces that even a baby can use. 

Cocaine, Pink Floyd's Money, several AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs use it.  Godley & Creme's song Cry is an obvious one and I know that because I actually stumbled onto that melody playing with the black keys long before that song was released. Totally a LEGO Primo, baby, built melody. If you will.

LEGO blocks even a
rock star can use

Bobby McFarrin says no matter where he has used this demonstration, no matter what audience and what country, they all perform exactly the way they did in the video above.

I think that's amazing. Below, the not amazing Cry by Godley and Creme composed entirely on the black keys using the imagination of an 8 year old.


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