Stravinsky’s Use of Scales in Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


How did Stravinsky use scales in folk music? And what effect did it have on his compositions?

Scales in Folk Music

Scales are an important element of music, and they are often used to create different moods and atmosphere. Stravinsky was a master of using scales to create folk music that was both interesting and accessible. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how Stravinsky used scales in folk music.

Major and minor scales

In tonal music, we often talk about two different types of scales: major and minor. A major scale is made up of eight notes, starting and ending on the same note (tonic). The pattern between these notes is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. For example, the C major scale would be C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. A minor scale is made up of the same notes as a major scale, but it starts and ends on a different note (the 3rd degree of the major scale). The pattern between these notes is whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. So the C minor scale would be C-D-EF-G-A-Bb-C.

Chromatic scales

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary tonality of a piece with other, unrelated tonalities. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism and modality. Chromatic notes are addressed as “altered notes”, because they are not part of the diatonic scale. The chromatic scale can be decomposed into twelve notes within an octave, each a semitone higher than the last, but only using the pitches within one piano key: all C’s, all D♭’s (or C♯’s), all D’s, and so on.

Pentatonic scales

Pentatonic scales are musical scales or melodies that use five notes per octave, in contrast to the more familiar heptatonic scales such as the major and minor scales. Pentatonic scales were very common in ancient music, and are still widely used in folk music and popular music. They are often used in jazz (especially bebop) and rock music (especially Asia, Africa, and the Americas).

One of the best-known pentatonic scales is the black keys on a piano, which consists of the tonic, lowered second, third, lowered fifth, and lowered seventh scale degrees. This scale is also known as the “blues scale”. Another well-known pentatonic scale is the Anhemitonic pentatonic scale, which consists of the tonic, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth scale degrees. This is also known as the “major pentatonic scale”.

Folk Music of the World

Stravinsky was a Russian composer who is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. He was born in 1882 and died in 1971. Stravinsky was known for his innovative and avant-garde compositions. One of his most famous works is The Rite of Spring, which caused a riot when it premiered in Paris in 1913.


European folk music has been an important influence on the development of Stravinsky’s compositional style. The composer was particularly interested in the music of Russia and the Balkans, and he often incorporated aspects of these traditional styles into his own music.

One of the most striking features of Stravinsky’s work is his use of folk-inspired scales. These unusual scales, which often include notes that are not typically found in Western classical music, give Stravinsky’s music a distinctive sound that is evocative of the traditional music of his homeland.

In this excerpt from his essay “Stravinsky and Folk Music,” the composer discusses his use of folk scales in his opera The Rake’s Progress:

“The Rake’s Progress is based on an English folk tune which I have transformed by means of various devices borrowed from Russian and Balkan folk music. In particular, I have made use of certain scales which are not to be found in Western classical music but which give my work a flavor that is characteristic of the traditional music of my homeland.”

Stravinsky’s use of folk-inspired scales is just one example of his innovative approach to composition. His willingness to experiment with new musical ideas helped to make him one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.


Folk music is an important part of the cultural heritage of many countries and regions, and has been used by composers as a source of inspiration for centuries. Stravinsky, in particular, was known for his use of folk music in his compositions. In this article, we’ll take a look at how he used folk music from Asia in his work.

Stravinsky first became interested in Asian music while he was living in Japan in the early 1900s. He was particularly struck by the way that the Japanese scales differed from Western scales, and he began to experiment with using these scales in his own music. One of the most famous examples of this is the “Rite of Spring”, which features a Japanese-inspired scale in its opening section.

Later on, after moving to the United States, Stravinsky continued to be inspired by Asian music. In 1944, he composed “Cantata”, which uses a Chinese folk song as its main melody. This work was very different from anything he had written before, and it caused some controversy when it was first performed. However, it is now considered to be one of his most important works.

Asian folk music has also been used by other composers, such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. However, it was Stravinsky who really pioneered the use of this type of music in Western classical composition.


Folk music from Africa is some of the most popular in the world, and has been for centuries. Though there are hundreds of different African ethnic groups, each with their own traditional music, there are some common musical elements that are found throughout the continent.

One of these elements is the use of scales.African music often uses what are called pentatonic scales, which have five notes instead of the usual seven. This creates a distinct sound that is quickly recognizable as African. Stravinsky, a famous Russian composer, was heavily influenced by African music and used pentatonic scales in many of his own pieces.

Another common element in African folk music is call and response. This is when one person or group sings or plays a phrase, and then another person or group responds with a similar phrase. This back-and-forth can continue for a long time, and often builds up to create a complex polyrhythm.

The Americas

The Americas are home to many different cultures, each with their own unique musical traditions. North American music is often based on European traditions, while South American music tends to be more influenced by African and indigenous rhythms.

Folk music is an important part of the American musical tradition. Many folk songs have been passed down from generation to generation, and they often tell stories about the people and places of the American landscape. Folk musicians often use traditional instruments, such as guitars, banjos, and fiddles, to give their music a distinctive sound.

Jazz is another popular American musical genre that has its roots in folk music. Jazz musicians often improvise their melodies and harmonies, giving jazz its characteristic sound. Jazz is commonly associated with the city of New Orleans, where the genre originated.

Rock and roll is a style of popular music that developed in the United States in the 1950s. Rock and roll combines elements of many different genres, including blues, country, and rhythm and blues. Rock and roll artists often use electric guitars and drums to create a loud, driving sound.

Stravinsky’s Use of Scales in Folk Music

Though atonal and serial music had been around for a few decades by the time Stravinsky composed his 1968 work “Agon”, pitch collections and scales were still very much a part of the tonal tradition. Stravinsky’s use of scales in “Agon” is a departure from atonal and serial techniques, but it is still firmly rooted in the tonal tradition. In this paper, I will discuss Stravinsky’s use of scales in “Agon” and how it fits within the tonal tradition.

The Firebird

The Firebird, composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1910, is a ballet score inspired by Russian folk tales. It was written for Serge Diaghilev’s world-famous Ballets Russes, and was first performed in Paris on June 25, 1910. The work marks a turning point in Stravinsky’s career, after which he began to experiment with wildly different soundworlds and compositional techniques.

One of the most striking aspects of The Firebird is Stravinsky’s use of scales. Traditional major and minor scales are eschewed in favor of modes and other folk-inspired scales. This gives the music a distinctly “exotic” flavor, and helps to create the sense of otherworldly magical realism that is so essential to the fairy-tale atmosphere of the piece.


Petrushka is a ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1911. The work is scored for an orchestra of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, with piano and celesta. The ballet tells the story of the love triangle between three puppets: the titular Petrushka, the ballerina doll Natasha, and the Moor doll Schahriar.

Stravinsky based the music on Russian folk tunes, many of which he collected himself from people he met while living in Paris. One such tune is the “Merrily We Go to Dance” melody that appears in the “Shrove-Tide Fair” scene. This melody is based on a folksong scale, which Stravinsky uses throughout the ballet to create a sense of Russian folk music.

The Rite of Spring

One of the most important examples of Stravinsky’s use of scales can be found in his 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring. The Rite was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, and was first performed in Paris on May 29, 1913. The premiere caused a near-riot among audience members, who were scandalized by the work’s primitive, pagan themes and its innovative use of irregular scales and meters.

The work is divided into two parts: “The Adoration of the Earth” and “The Sacrifice.” In “The Adoration of the Earth,” Stravinsky makes use of various pentatonic and hexatonic scales, which are widely used in folk music. In particular, he uses the so-called “blues scale,” which consists of the following intervals: whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step (or 1-2-3-4-5-6). This scale can be seen in bars 1-4 of the opening bassoon solo:

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