Friday, July 13, 2007

A pentatonic scale for your workplace

This week I have been attending music camp with a 6 year old friend who is just beginning to learn to play the guitar. His teacher started with a pentatonic scale. That might seem counter-intuitive. The pentatonic scale doesn't sound like the scales the children are singing and playing in their other classes. It's not familiar. It's not even a concept that is familiar to most non-musical adults.

But it's brilliant. The glory of the pentatonic scale, as the teacher explained, is that as long as you stay within the scale, there are no wrong notes. Everything you play sounds like music, and everything you play will work with something someone else is playing using the pentatonic scale. For the investment of a short time learning the notes of the scale, you are rewarded with the freedom to play: to play patterns someone else has set or to make up your own; to play all by yourself and with other people.

Beginning with the pentatonic scale means teaching kids that music is, first and foremost, play. It's the ability to explore with joy, alone and in the company of other people. It's accepting a few rules so that you can experience wide and wonderful freedoms. Children who begin with the pentatonic scale begin by learning to improvise.

Think about it. It's possible to gather elements that create the freedom to improvise by limiting the ability to make mistakes. People trained in those elements can both seize opportunities and generate them. They can work on their own and they can work in teams. They can improvise effectively even before they have mastery.

What elements would you include in a pentatonic scale for your workplace?

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