The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”, from the 2009 World Science Festival, June 12, 2009.

Bobby McFerrin

What Bobby McFerrin does is not an act; it’s spontaneous invention. He peers over the edge of the cliff, acknowledges the void below, and dives head first, buoyed by the element of surprise. Bobby uses dense rhythms, extraordinary scales, and complicated intervals that accomplished musicians and educators have studied and dissected.

For many people, the name Bobby McFerrin will always be associated with the first a cappella song ever to reach #1 on the charts in America, a feel-good ditty with an inspirational message: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Bobby’s legendary solo performance and collaborations with artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and The Vienna Philharmonic have toured the world. For Bobby McFerrin, music-making is an unending quest. “Music for me,” says Bobby, “is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul. And I like to think we’re all on a journey into our souls. What’s down there? That’s why I do what I do.”

For more of Bobby McFerrin and the science behind this program, click here.

Selected Comments From Vimeo

Maggie McFee

Wow. Just beautiful and amazing. We are such an awesome animal in so many ways.

It’s not magic or some sort of genetic memory that’s needed to explain this. We’re all immersed in music and melody throughout our lives and our love of listening to it stems from our appreciation of things that please our ears; like the pentatonic scale. What pleases us becomes part of our musical vocabulary. The phrase ‘music is a universal language’ is very close to the truth, I’d say.

This is a absolutely brilliant demonstration of that.

Anna Vorhes

Pentatonic scales are an ancient format in many parts of the world. People singing together without any pre-composition and learning is also a concept from the beginning of music. Perhaps jumping to indicate a pitch was used in Raymond’s Revenge, but the basic materials predate any form of recording including writing.


If you listen to children when they are creating their own music it is almost always pentatonic based. Bobby does a wonderful job demonstrating the scales innate presence in our psyche.

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