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Tuning to a 5 tone scale

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Edmund 07 Aug 03 - 02:07 PM
GUEST,Chris C 07 Aug 03 - 09:28 PM
Amos 07 Aug 03 - 09:32 PM
Don Firth 07 Aug 03 - 09:43 PM
JohnInKansas 08 Aug 03 - 02:26 AM
GUEST,bdm 08 Aug 03 - 02:53 AM
greg stephens 08 Aug 03 - 04:32 AM
Edmund 10 Aug 03 - 07:33 PM
JohnInKansas 10 Aug 03 - 08:11 PM
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Subject: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: Edmund
Date: 07 Aug 03 - 02:07 PM

I would like to record (for the grandchildren) a few Chinese songs I learned 50 years age (WWII) but don't know how to tune my guitar to the Chinese 5 tone scale.

Any suggestions    would be appreciated. Also how do you position the fingers to make chords in this tuning.

I am a musical idiot so please keep any suggestions as simple as possible.

Many thanks for any help ... Edmund

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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: GUEST,Chris C
Date: 07 Aug 03 - 09:28 PM

I'd recommend playing the songs with your guitar in standard (regular ol') tuning.
I don't know much about Chinese music, but there's no sense re-learning the guitar.
Chinese music IS based on a 5-tone scale, but so is lots of American/Western music (guitar-friendly). What's called the minor pentatonic ("5-note") scale is prevalent in the blues, etc.
When I introduce students to the scale, their first response is often that it "sounds Chinese".
The 6 open strings on the guitar comprise the notes found in the E minor pentatonic scale, so it could be said that the guitar is already "tuned to a five note scale", so the guitar may be well suited to imitate Chinese instruments, or at least to approximate the style.
In short: play the songs on your guitar as-is.
(But I guess the question remains: Does anyone know of a sensible open tuning that facilitaes Chinese-style guiter playing?)

Good Luck

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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: Amos
Date: 07 Aug 03 - 09:32 PM

I have found that open tuning (G or D) tuning can be played using the intervals typical of a north Indian raga -- such as would be played on a vina. I suppose that the drone plus melody combination could be used for playing Chine scales as well. I'd try just dropping into open D tuning and giving it a shot. D A D F# A D, for example.


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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: Don Firth
Date: 07 Aug 03 - 09:43 PM

I don't know that much about Chinese music, but a couple of things I do know:—

You shouldn't have to retune your guitar at all. The Chinese use the same notes we do, not counting transitory slides from one note to another. Western European music uses these slides too, but not quite as much as Chinese music. It's just that in five-tone (pentatonic) scales, you obviously don't use all the notes to be found in the standard Western major or minor scale. There are several possible pentatonic scales and it would be necessary to know which one or ones the tunes are in. The best I can suggest is, if you have the tunes firmly in your ear, just fish around on the guitar—trial and error—until you find which strings and frets the notes you want are on, then it should be duck-soup.

One thing that characterizes pentatonic scales is that there are no half-steps. They are composed of whole steps, or intervals of a step and a half. A typical pentatonic scale would be A C D E G then a repeat of the A an octave above the first A. Another is C D E G A and a repeat of the C, which is exactly the same, but starting and ending on a different note. The black keys on the piano form a pentatonic scale, and you can probably play a lot of Asian music on them. A lot of Scottish music, much of which is pentatonic, as well.

As to chords, that gets a bit tricky. Ideally, you wouldn't want to use any notes in the chords that you aren't using in the scale, but with the standard chord families, that's next to impossible. In the two examples I gave above, try to stick pretty close to the C and Am chords in both. You can try playing parts of other chords, like a G, for example, playing only the G and D notes and avoiding the B. You'd have to pick individual strings or pairs of strings rather than strumming. The two notes you want to avoid in this case are B and F. As I say, a bit tricky. It's a matter of experimentation. Try other closely related chords and see if they sound right. That's about the best test.

That's not much to go on, but I hope it helps.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 08 Aug 03 - 02:26 AM

I've made previous searches for Oriental scale information without much success. My current search (Google), however, for "Chinese+Music+Scales" turned up quite a lot of pretty good stuff. Unfortunately, it would take several pages to post all of what I found interesting.

The "short version" is that Chinese music uses two 7-note scales and five 5-note scales. The 5-note (pentatonic) scales are most common.

All of the pentatonic Chinese scales use notes in approximately the same relationship as C, D, E, G, A. They differ only in which note is taken as the starting point.

The "approximately" above is a rather crude one. Chinese scales are based essentially on a Pythagorian calculation of frequency ratios, and the frets ain't in the right places on your guitar to play them accurately. The differences, however, are not likely to be too apparent except to one "immersed" in Chinese music. So "wing it" with what you've got.

Depending on how "authentic" you wish to be (or how "authentic" your songs are) you should forget about "how to chord" them. Chinese music doesn't use chords. (They do use some polyphony, but not anything like the triad/quartet stuff common in western music.) If you want to "westernize" them, to make them a little more "user friendly" for your intended audience, just try to stick to chords that use the notes in the scales, or that sound good with them. (My impression is that you're trying to pass on your experience with Chinese music, so what sounds ok to you should be the appropriate thing.)

I'd think that the advice from Don Firth, above, should work well.

Most readable site I found (and read most of) on the Chinese scale structure is Pitches, Scales and Modes.

A site I've bookmarked, Music Notation, appears to have a wealth of information about notation for ethnic music of many kinds, tab for strange instruments, etc. I got tired of scrolling and didn't get to the end of it. Someone with some knowledge on this stuff should give us an opinion whether it's as good as it looks. For now, I'm about "surfed out."

Note that the above comments are based on a couple of hours of web research. I can't claim to actually know anything about Chinese music. The topic has come up recently in other threads, though, without anyone producing much information - hence the current search.


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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: GUEST,bdm
Date: 08 Aug 03 - 02:53 AM

what is a 5 tone scale

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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Aug 03 - 04:32 AM

To make a cliche "Chinese" sound on the guitar, try playing in consecutive fourths. In practise, this means sticking one finger down on the top(B and E) strings,on the same fret, and playing the two strings together.
   The traditional corny intro for "Chinatown,ny Chinatown" is played as follows
8th fret 4 quavers(1/8th notes)
6th fret 2 crotchets(1/4 notes)
3rd fret 2 crotchets
6th fret 2 crotchets

very corny,very effective

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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: Edmund
Date: 10 Aug 03 - 07:33 PM

Many thanks for the suggestions ... I'll have a go at it ... is anyone interested if I come up with anything that works (most unlikely, given my limitations)?


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Subject: RE: Tuning to a 5 tone scale
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 10 Aug 03 - 08:11 PM

Edmund -

I think even if you find something that doesn't work, you'll find someone here interested.


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