Thursday, November 24, 2011

Early Pentatonic Music

As a companion to my review of early pentatonic instruments from a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss pentatonic music.

Given that the notes you'll find on the early pentatonic instruments include only d, e, g, a, b, D, and E you need music that only includes those notes. It was more difficult than I expected to find songs for early pentatonic instruments.

Music Book Reviews: Pentatonic Music Books

These are the four books I found.

Music Book Review: I love to be me: Songs in the mood of the fifth

The first book is I love to be me: Songs in the mood of the fifth. Music is by Channa A. Seidenberg and illustrations are by Kingsley Lou Little. This book was first published in 2002. The book includes 32 songs written for a 7-string lyre in the pentatonic scale. Almost every song is accompanied by a beautiful full-color illustration and includes lyrics. The songs are presented very simply. Notes are not divided into measures. Some of the songs are very simple musical accompaniments to children's poems. Others are more lyrical. This would be a nice way for a preschool teacher to introduce children's poems with a picture and simple musical accompaniment.

Music Book Review: Clump-a-Dump and Snickle-Snack

The second book is Clump-a-Dump and Snickle-Snack by Johanne Russ. This is a translation of a book published in Holland in 1966. It includes 42 fairytale themed, holiday, and lullaby songs written in the pentatonic scale. The music and lyrics are handwritten rather than typeset for the most part. The book also contains occasional (beautiful) black and white pencil drawings. Due to the handwritten appearance of the music it is a little harder to follow than the Seidenberg book. Also, this music is significantly more complex. However, the content is original and there is a lot there to learn and enjoy.

Music Book Review: Pentatonic Songs for nursery, kindergarten and grades 1 and 2

The third book is Pentatonic Songs for nursery, kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 by Elisabeth Lebret. This book was published in 1985. This book contains 45 simple songs. Many were written by the author or based on nursery rhymes. This book includes no illustrations. The music is done in a handwritten style and the lyrics appear as if they were typed on a typewriter.

Music Book Review: Familiar Songs for Pentatonic Playalongs

The final book is Familiar Songs for Pentatonic Playalongs published in 1991 by Noteworthy Press. This book has the music and lyrics for 11 pentatonic songs and named notes (not full music or lyrics, but just the names of the notes) for an additional 14 songs. For 8 of the songs the book includes song cards that show a visual representation of the music for easy use with a lyre. This book begins with an introduction to the lyre and the pentatonic scale. That is followed by the 8 song cards and the full lyrics and sheet music (and small black and white illustration) to the 11 pentatonic songs. That is followed by the named notes for 14 additional songs. Finally there is a short information page on reading musical notation. If you were only going to get one of the four books, I would recommend this one. Yes, there are fewer songs overall, but the songs are familiar and accessible. The book also provides some introductory information to the instrument, the pentatonic scale, and musical notation. The song cards are a great bonus as well.

These books are not easy to find. Most websites had one or two, but not all. I finally found all four of them here.

My Pentatonic Song Card Adaptations

So, to be perfectly honest, even after several years of piano as a child I am not a great sight reader. Also, the lyre is a completely new instrument to me. I use intervals a lot when I'm trying to sight read and the translation from a traditional music staff to the pentatonic instrument was challenging for me. So, I took a couple of familiar tunes I knew were pentatonic and made my own song cards. I'm sharing these arrangements with you. I hope someone finds them to be useful. (I checked and both of these are public domain songs so I do not believe I am violating any copyright laws. If someone believes otherwise please contact me so I can address the issue.)


I give permission to copy, print, or distribute these music cards provided that:
  1. Each copy makes clear that I am the document's author.
  2. No copies are altered without my express consent.
  3. No one makes a profit from these copies.
  4. Electronic copies contain a live link back to my original and print copies not for merely personal use contain the URL of my original.

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