Open Mike Night

Wednesday night it was “Open Mike Night” all around. I was trying to “open up” my date Mike, while sitting at a coffee shop where various folks got up to sing and play bizarre instruments.

When I suggested this particular coffee place (The Fixx), I had no idea that we’d have such random entertainment. The problem was that many of them were playing guitar — and now that I’m learning how to play, I can’t stop looking at people’s fingers while they’re playing. Which made it difficult to pay attention to Mike, despite him being fairly amusing.

After a few performers had exercised their pipes, a guy got up with a sitar. It was simultaneously fascinating and annoying. It would’ve been great for one minute, but he kept going on and on and on…

I hadn’t ever seen a sitar in person. It’s weird. And since it’s based on a different scale than we Westerners are used to, it’s just hard to listen to after a while.


Hearing this guy reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my guitar teacher a few weeks ago about how different cultures have different scales. I guess I knew this, and obviously music from other cultures sounds different enough to suggest this fact. But I hadn’t given it much thought.

He told me that just like having a mother language, people also have “mother scales” — we orient all music to the scale we first came to know. So the Indian scale, in which octaves are divided into 22, definitely sounds different, but our ears/brain tend to process it as being a little off the mark.

I found an interesting description at Here it is:

The Greeks built their music on the basis on the pentatonic scale. Many Chinese and Scottish music is also been written based on this five-note scale. Pythagoras developed the Pythagorean scale which uses only two intervals: 9:8 (the second) and 256:243. Other scales were developed by other cultures. The Chinese divide the octave into twelve equal steps, but they frequently only use the notes corresponding to the black notes on the piano (the pentatonic scale). Arab music divides the octave into sixteen unequal intervals, making it entirely different from Western scales. They use the octave and the fifth, and they frequently use quarter tones. Indian music divides the octave into 22 steps, although only seven intervals are used. The octave, fifth, and fourth are part of the Indian system. The Persians divided their octave into 24 steps, so they must have used quarter tones (Culver 1956, p. 132). Egyptian flutes have been discovered which had a seven note scale C, D, E, F, G, A, B, which is identical with the Syntolydian scale of ancient Greece (Jeans 1938, p. 165). In England, a scale of music known as the gam was used.

Jeans (1938) noted that almost all cultures seem to have independently developed the the twelve half steps of the octave, and speculated that this was trial and error process which proceeded until the scale C1, G1, D2, A3, E3, B4, F4, C5, G5, E6, B7, F7, C8 was developed, in which each note is seven half steps (a fifth) higher than the previous one. This eight octave scale therefore gives a harmonic fifth for any two consecutive notes played together (Jeans 1938, pp. 163-164).


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Pastor Tom said,


    So were you able to open Mike up –
    or were you so annoyed by Ravi Shankar
    that you closed down?

    Pastor Tom

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