Why does it sound like traditional Chinese music when I play all the black keys on a piano one by one?

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Why does it sound like traditional Chinese music when I play all the black keys on a piano one by one?

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The black keys on the piano form what is known as the “pentatonic scale,” a five-note scale (as opposed to the seven-note scales, e.g. C major, formed when you play the white keys). The pentatonic scale grew in popularity in East Asia sometime around the 7th century BC, slightly earlier than the Pythagorean scale was gaining popularity in Greece and greater Europe.

It soon became the basis of much of the music of China and Pacific Asia. Around the 6th century AD, the seven-note scale was introduced to China via India, and the millennium following that saw Chinese music grow more complex, incorporating more notes beyond the pentatonic scale. However, the heavy use of the pentatonic scale remained prominent.

To a Western ear, a focus on the pentatonic scale sounds foreign and exotic, since Western music traditions don’t focus on it very often. Thus, when popular media of the 20th century wanted to make use of music to denote an Eastern theme, it used the pentatonic scale, cementing its sound as the sound of “Chinese music” in popular culture, despite the fact that true Chinese music often uses far more notes.