Posted in Project 5: Pentatonic Melody Examples

Example 1: Pentatonic chant

Note: Before you take a look at my example, you can read my research regarding Western plainchant, especially the debatable role of the pentatonicism in the Gregorian chant.

Project 5 is about composing three short contrasting vocal melodic shapes using the pentatonic scale. Contrary to the examples given in the course material, where the step-wise motion dominates the melodies, I decided to go for wider interval jumps. For the first example, without bar lines, but using rests that take the role of grouping the phrases, initially I composed the melodic line below:

initial melody

Since the grouping is achieved by the rests, and the melody consists of interval jumps, I also decided not to add any slurs. Although written using the pentatonic scale, I was surprised that the slow, free flowing nature of the melody somehow resembled the Western plainchant. After doing some research, where I learned more about the forms found in chant traditions such as Gregorian chant,  I decided to title this Pentatonic plainchant. I also felt like this could be developed more and decided to extend the example into a longer piece, using the initial melody I composed as the starting point:

pentatonic chant.png

You can listen to it below:

Analysis and reflection

Note that the project aim is to create the melodic shapes, while paying attention to the contour, peak points, balancing and phrasing. While I did create a piece longer than that, I feel I didn’t move away from the aim, but instead extended the project into a larger exercise, adding to the challenge. Also, the added part isn’t a melody, but a fragmental musical structure, which doesn’t take away from the main melody itself. In fact, it provides a sharp contrast. Along these lines, the piece demonstrates the distinct difference between a melody of a musical sentence, and a melody that constitutes the fragmental parts f music. 

The piece has the ternary ABA1 form, reminiscent of the simple antiphonal form AVA, where the free flowing A sections are like antiphons and the B is the monotone section that reminds of the recitation of the psalm verse. I wrote about these forms in the research here. I should mention that I don’t really follow the Gregorian or any other chant structure in terms of the melodic structure, especially since I composed the melody before doing the research.

The A section (bar 1) is the melody I initially composed. It is a musical sentence that consists of 2 phrases, which I’ve grouped by using crochet rests, and each consists of sub-phrases, grouped by quaver rests. While I did want to play with the rise and fall of the melody, I did primarily rely on my instincts of what sounded good, just as the project brief mentioned. As I said at the beginning of the post, I also used larger interval gaps. However, I never exceed the fifth and the melody doesn’t just randomly jump from one tone to the other. Instead, the melody and the four phrases move in the wave-like motion, and I think I used the rests well to calm certain parts of the movements. The dynamics also help the melody rise and fall. Although I didn’t start the melody with D, it is the tonal centre, being the ending note, similar to the finalis in the church chants.

As the melody of the A section reminded me of the antiphons, I decided to add section B (bar 2) that would serve as the verse in the antiphonal form. Thus, this section is not melodious, but instead represents the monotone recitation of the psalm. It is faster, notated as Moderato, contrasting the previous Lento, and very rhythmical with the repetition of tone D. Although I tried to retain the inflections, like the structure of intonation, mediant and termination of the psalm tone, this is of course not stylistically correct. Another thing is that the mode I (protus authenticus) would be somewhat the mode of my antiphon melody, so this would require the recitation tone or tenor to be A. Instead, my tenor is D. And in that sense it’s as if I switch to a mode with finalis on G. In terms of pentatonic scale though, I actually go from the F/D pentatonic scale to C/A pentatonic scale. (D F G A C D to A C D E G A – Form A and B in Example 20). This is something that the project brief mentioned we could do, and I think it adds more tonal interest to the piece.

Next is the section A1 (bar 3) that goes back to the slow lento and repeats the melodic ideas and the wave-like contour of section A. I did change the melody a bit though, and added a peak tone – high D, which makes the melody seem like one bigger wave comparing to the first A melody. The finalis is also reached from below this time, which gives it more of an ending atmosphere.

All in all, I am quite satisfied with this piece. Although I did go beyond what the brief asked, I don’t think I’ve completely abandoned its guidelines and instead just extended on its goals, while also showing the difference between two types of melodic context – musical sentence and fragment. I relied on my instincts, which made the melody a lot more interesting. The research on the Western plainchant also helped in putting my melody within a certain frame, although it is not completely stylistically correct. Initially I thought the pentatonic scale wasn’t as interesting, especially since it has quite a few restrictions, but starting from this example, it opened a whole new field of music to me. Following this path, I also encountered the folksong genres of the Chinese Xintianyou, as well as the Scottish Puirt a beul. More about that, look at my example 2 and 3.


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