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Observations placeholder

Engel, C - Musical Myths and Facts - Birdsong



Type of Spiritual Experience


Conclusions?  Our major scale does not accord with nature

A description of the experience

Musical Myths and Facts Volume II – C Engel

Could we trace our diatonic scale in the songs of birds and in the euphonious cries of certain quadrupeds, we should have a more cogent reason for regarding it as the most natural scale than is afforded by a comparison of the vibrations required for the production of its several intervals.

The songs of various birds have been written down in notation, from which it would appear that these feathered songsters posses an innate feeling for the diatonic major scale; but, unfortunately, unless the melodious phrases or passages thus noted down are distinguished by some remarkable rhythmical peculiarity, they are seldom easily recognisable when they are played on musical instruments.

There may be among the numerous birds a few which in their natural song, untaught and uninfluenced in any way by man, emit a small series of tones strictly diatonic; but no such musicians are to be found among our own birds, although we have in Europe the finest singing birds in existence.

The nightingale produces occasionally a succession of tones which nearly corresponds with the diatonic Major scale in descending, and which might possibly be mistaken for it by a listener charmed by the exquisite purity and sweetness of the tones, which he does not investigate with the ear of a piano-forte tuner. Even the two melodious sounds of the cuckoo cannot be properly written down in notation; nor can they be rendered on the pianoforte, because they do not exactly constitute a Major Third, for which they are generally taken, and still less a Minor Third...........

Those theorists who regard our diatonic major scale as the most perfect one, which ultimately must be universally accepted as the only true one, will probably not admit that under certain circumstances the sounding of one or other of its intervals a little ‘out of tune’ may actually increase the beauty of a musical performance. Such is, however, unquestionably the case.

The source of the experience

Musician other

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Listening to music