The Textures of Eastern Music

It is easy to stereotype music, and culture. It is easy to stereotype them together as well – for instance, to state that all eastern music sounds the same.

Often times, it does, to an untrained ear. Many of us on this side of the world are only accustomed to Western sounds, thoughts, and ideas. I’d be willing to bet that to some people in Israel (for instance), most Western music “sounds the same”.

Of course to say all of a certain type of music is the same, would be crazy – but I think it is interesting to look at what makes types of music similar to other types of music, eastern music especially. I certainly can’t claim to be an expert on this – credit for this goes to my teachers and textbooks!

1. The Pentatonic Scale. This scale is a combination of 5 notes. These 5 notes, and these 5 only, make up the entire piece of music. The notes can be arranged and re-arranged any way the composer wants, but only if the note is one of the set 5. This music can be charming, but limiting, which is why pieces that utilize it can sometimes sound similar.

2. The Neapolitan Chord. Neapolitan chords, or flat II chords, are used quite a bit, especially in Israeli music. (Again, this is probably a generalization, but seems to be a common occurrence).  This chord has to do with the type of scale that is used. As the flat II is not a large part of our traditional Western major scale, it comes as a surprise at times and can set eastern music apart with that characteristic.

3. Instrumentation. You can almost always tell an American old-time string band when you hear one – not only because of typical chord progressions, or certain tunes that are frequently played, but by the blend of sound achieved by the various instruments. It can be the same with Eastern music – traditional instruments are often used – flute, sitar, tambourine, bongos, guitars, harps, etc.

These are my thoughts, and by no means factual – however, they are things that I have observed while writing some documentary scores using Eastern Music styles. Hopefully you’ll find some interest in them!

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