The video below is entitled "The Power of the Pentatonic Scale". And from the video you'd think that people are inherently tuned to the pentatonic scale. But I was wondering if they're really inherently tuned or did Bobby tune them? Could they have been just as easily tuned to the major scale (or even minor scale)?

In the video the C# pentatonic consists of the notes C# D# F (aka E#) G# A#

at 0:19 he jumps on the note of C# a few times to establish the root
at 0:33 he jumps on the note of D#
at 0:42 the crowd correctly guesses the E♯. which is kind of cool but it makes sense since it could be the major scale.
at 1:06 he jumps on the pitch of A#
he then plays on A#, C#, D#, E♯ for a while
at 1:56 the crowd correctly guesses G# (which is amazing)
at 2:02 the crowd correctly guesses E♯ (which is super amazing bc they figured out it was pentatonic)
at 2:05 the crowd correctly guesses D#
at 2:07 the crowd correctly guesses the tonic of C#

So my question is if at 1:06 had he jumped to the seventh of the scale (C) instead of A#, would that have made the crowd guess the major scale instead of pentatonic? It's not like humans are just about pentatonic right?

At 2:38 Bobby says, "What's interesting to me about that is regardless of where I am. Anywhere. Every audience gets that... It's just the pentatonic scale for some reason". I wish I could ask him if he tried major or minor. If it's really just pentatonic I'd be surprised.

  • 3
    My take on this is that his whole point was that everyone knows the pentatonic scale because they’ve heard it so many times. It’s a universal thing that spans cultures. Apr 12, 2019 at 21:55

2 Answers 2


Humans are pattern-seeking primates. And within Western culture, we have all internalized, consciously or not, the patterns of the major scale and pentatonic scale, because they're commonly used in folk songs and children's tunes.

Once Bobby sings that A♯ at 1:06, the audience recognizes the pitches not as the entire major scale, but as the specific subset of it known as the pentatonic collection. (Again, this recognition can be conscious or subconscious.) From there, the audience is able to guess G♯ as the next lowest note, followed by E♯ below that.

Had he jumped to a B♯ at 1:06 instead, their brains would have recognized it as the major scale, and they would have almost certainly sung down that scale, instead.

It is cool that the crowd "guesses" G♯ at 1:56, but it's to be expected. With what we know of our brains' key-finding algorithms, it's one of the few choices available to us. We want to sing something that "fits" with the pitches already presented, and we tend to favor smaller steps instead of larger leaps. And since the audience has been primed to accept C♯ as tonic, they wouldn't have sung a G♮ or A♮, because those don't fit into any common scale patterns built on C♯ (and certainly none built on C♯ that also include E♯ and A♯).

And Todd makes a great point in the comments: once Bobby starts singing his melody above the audience at 1:18, he sings a G♯ as the second pitch!

Keep in mind too that there may be some strength in numbers here. Audience members with more musical education probably sang more confidently than those that view themselves as "tone deaf." So when a new pitch came, I would bet some audience members suddenly went very quiet until they heard what their neighbors were singing. But that's just speculation.

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    One thing missed here is that he sings some of the “guessed” pitches first when he is singing along above the crowd. Apr 12, 2019 at 22:00

The crowd catch on quickly. But he cues them pretty strongly by singing the notes while setting up the pentatonic scale, and at 1'06" he definitely teaches the crowd what he wants. There's a similar demonstration online where he has to insist strongly that he wants a ♭7 rather than a leading note - the crowd definitely prefer the latter :-)

He's got a point. He's got a lot of charisma. But yes, I think he could have done a similar demonstration (to a Western audience, at any rate) with a major scale.

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    do you have a link for that other demonstration? I'd be interested in seeing it
    – Some_Guy
    Jun 6, 2019 at 0:17
  • All those sharps seem to make it seem more complicated than it is. If it were described in terms of "Do Re Mi – Sol La – Do", it might seem a lot simpler. It's just the normal familiar scale with "Fa" and and "Ti" missing. And, with those two notes being only a semi-tone interval away from one of the other notes, people tend to think of them as the two weakest notes anyway. (Or maybe that's the whole point of this exercise.) Dec 20, 2019 at 3:06

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