TIP OF THE DAY

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Changing Octaves on the Pentatonic and Diatonic Kalimbas

I read something really cool last night - that even animals like dogs and cats hear octaves in a way similar to the way humans hear octaves. Imagine music as a spiral staircase going up, up, up, like 8 or 9 floors. You can do a little dance on one part of the staircase, and then you can go up exactly one floor higher, and deja vu - it's the same dance, just higher. And so, dog and cat brains hear the octave as well.

The pentatonic scale has five unique notes. Let's start at the bottom and call it 1, then go up through the notes ending up on 5. To complete the scale, we need to come back to the 1 note again, but this time an octave up.

On the kalimba, those notes - 1,2,3,4,5 - alternate from right to left. Let's say 1 is on the right, 2-left, 3-right, 4-left, 5-right... then the next note, which is 1 an octave higher, will be on the left, the opposite side of the kalimba than the lower octave 1. This will generally be true: if you want to jump up an octave, you go to a tine that is shorter and on the other side. If you want to go down an octave, the tine you are looking for is longer and on the other side.

I advise that you just try jumping to it - guessing which note it is that you are looking for, even if you have written notes on your tines!

The diatonic scale has 7 unique notes, and the 8th is the 1 again, an octave higher. So, this same rule works for the diatonic scale (or any scale with an odd number of notes).