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Mayas Had Their Own Musical Scale, Experts Say

Mayas Had Their Own Musical Scale, Experts Say

MEXICO CITY – The Mayas had a musical scale very different from the western one according to experts who examined and played 125 instruments recovered from Maya sites, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, said.

After 18 months of work, researchers have identified the possible sounds played at attracting them with imitation birdcalls, the institute said. This is the first study to be made of instruments preserved in the Maya Gallery of the National Anthropology Museum, and which include flutes, ocarinas, whistles, trumpets, ceramic horns, conch shells, turtle shells, rattles and bells.

According to INAH, taking part in the study are professional musicians charged with finding out how to play each instrument and identifying their musical scales, their notes and semitones. “The ranges of notes detected do not correspond to music played with the western institute” said. Museum director Diana Magaloni who  said that the objects have been analyzed from an archaeological point of view, but lack a study on how they work as musica instruments. She added that this research project, developed by a group of experts from INAH and distinguished scholar Francisca Zalaquett, will continue with some 200 pre- Columbian instruments from the Gulf cultures and 40 more from the Mexica culture.

After reviewing the state of preservation of each instrument, professional musicians play and record all possible notes in acoustic conditions free of anything that could distort the sounds, she said. The number of chords that can be played varies with the instrument – for example, whistles have produced up to four, ocarinas up to eight or nine, and the triple flute up to 600 combinations.


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