Get your first scale free?

Remember all those collections they use to sell at the newsagents, offering you a free binder with the first instalment? As if you wouldn’t end up paying for it in the end! The idea was that once it was in your house you would have to find shelf space for it, and it would act as a weekly reminder to buy the next instalment and the next, and the next.

And if you didn’t follow through right to the end, you’d be left with an incomplete collection which would finish up unsold alongside all those electronic keyboards that turn up in garage sales. Not forgetting the piano tutor books that never got beyond the “free introductory” scale of C major – the white notes.

The design of the piano encapsulates the evolutionary stages of musical knowledge, so that the acquisition of pianistic skill mirrors in miniature the progression of Western music from Medieval organ music onwards. So you have to get the boring business out of the way before they let you learn the Super Mario Overworld Theme.

I noted in an earlier post entitled “What Boys Like” that their favourite tunes include themes from Mission Impossible, James Bond, the Simpsons and the Pink Panther, none of which use a standard major or minor scale. Many guitar students want to move straight onto blues scales.

So the free lunch is not only not free, but for some, may not even be that appetizing.

I have seen homemade panpipes made in different exotic scales, which end up on the mantelpiece once their possibilities have been exhausted. The Ecuadorian national panpipes called rondador has 17 tubes including (in this video at least) no less than three tubes sounding the upper E.

The tuning given by this informant is only one of several found in Ecuador and Bolivia. Since the tubes are meant to be played two at a time I give the resultant chords below.


This instrument is an extreme case of facilitating certain melodies at the expense of all the others. It embodies a set of fixed preferences, both melodic and harmonic.

Yet is this eccentric arrangement all that different from other Panflutes that offer the G major scale for starters, or even from the traditional piano? For me the difference is one of degree.

I mean, so long as we agree on having twelve equidistant intervals in an octave, why do we still give preference to one, boring, seven-note scale? Do the other five notes still need to be banished to the background?

The wholetone tuned panpipe is not intended to give preference to the whole tone scale. And in practice it doesn’t influence one to play more whole tone passages. It is simply the neatest and most logical way to pack the twelve notes of the octave, given that you can get two notes, a semitone apart, out of each tube.

Similar thinking led Paul von Jankó to design his keyboard back in the 1880’s. I was sent a video of a new model being played. Note that the title is “First Steps and Ideas on the Reinert Jankó Keyboard”. How different these first steps are from Chopsticks on the piano:

But I guess you need to experience how intuitive it is.

About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
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