Traditional Chinese music uses a different scale system. Instead of the diatonic (eight-note) scale used in Western music (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C), Chinese music uses only a five-note (pentatonic) scale. In addition, the notes are not tuned according to an equal-temperament system, so that one cannot play the same melody starting on a different note, because the ratios between successive notes are not the same. Some early 20th century classical music, in trying to defy convention, essentially used pentatonic scales as well.
Westerners typically find traditional Chinese music a bit odd because the notes do not map directly onto the notes in our scale, which we have become so accustomed to hearing. Some Western forms of music use pentatonic scales, but versions using the notes or pitches used in the equal-temperament scale system. These pentatonic traditions include Celtic folk music, some forms of West African music, and the American blues tradition. The five-note tradition makes improvisation, a hallmark of both Celtic music and American blues, easier.
Go to the next tab to listen to a Celtic music example and hear this scale in action.