Posted in Project 5: Pentatonic Melody Examples

Example 2: Xin Tian You

Note: Before you see my example, you can read my research regarding the Chinese music, especially the folksongs, and the way the pentatonic scale is used there – all of which influenced the construction of the melody below.


Continuing on from the Western chant tradition and the previous example, I wanted to travel further and through research, I looked at the way the pentatonic scale was used in the East, particularly in China – returning again to my roots. I was particularly interested in the folksongs. After some thinking, I decided to write a melody in the style of Xin Tian You – the mountain song genre from Shaanxi province, developed by the porters that were transporting goods to far away places. Here is the melody:

Xin tian you

The audio version is below:

Analysis and reflections

Comparing to the first example, this one is indeed based on the melodic construction, rather than creating a short piece – a lot closer to what the brief of the project asked for. Although the brief also stated that it is not necessary to use bar lines, I did add them together with the time signature, in order to be stylistically closer to the genre I chose.

All the Xin Tian You songs I looked at used 2/4, which matches the structure of the poem lyrics. Although some songs may be faster, I chose the lento tempo as the songs are usually very expressive. I tried to stress this even more by adding the ornaments, fermata and the slide.

The melody is 8 bars long, divided in two 4-bar phrases. Once again, I use the larger interval jumps. Like I mentioned in my research here, Xin Tian You genre is known for its double 4ths, for example, jumps between G C D G or D G A D. My jumps are mainly based on that. The rhythm I chose is also typical for the genre, as is the wide range. The pentatonic scale I use is Bb C D F G Bb, but the tonal centre is F. In the Chinese tradition, this would be the shang mode of the pentatonic scale – again, something representative of the Xin Tian You folksongs.

Despite using the jumps once again, I feel like this melody moves in a more gradual way than the previous pentatonic chant. While the peak tone seems to be the high Bb in bar 3, because of its short duration, it has more of an ornamental function. This is something often found in the Chinese music in general. For these reasons, F would be the real peak note, reached twice in the melody, once in the first phrase and once in the second. The first time the high F appears, it is held for a longer period, reminiscent of the long shouts across the mountains which the mountain songs often imitate. Another thing is that there is a lack of sub-mediant D in the first phrase. Appearing in the second phrase, it brings a new kind of feeling and freshness to the melody, which is why I didn’t only slide into the note, but also prolonged it by a fermata. The slide though sounds very weird in Sibelius. I tried quite a few things, but nothing seems to be able to improve that. Finally, the dynamics match the rise and the fall of the melodic contour.

To conclude, I think this is an interesting example of a melody that illustrates a good deal of cultural and stylistic understanding. I also followed the project guidelines a lot closer. I think I was particularly successful in managing to do what brief noted in that, in spite of composing in the same scale, by using different rhythm, intervals and other means, this example contrasts the previous, making them two completely different solos. Along these lines, I composed yet another stylistically different example – the Scottish Puirt a beul. Take a look at my final example here.

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