The Mayas had a different musical scale from that of the Westerns.


The Mayas had a “musical scale” very different from the five Western notes, experts said. They analyzed 125 instruments, including flutes, ocarinas, trumpets, horns, ceramic, conch shells, an official source said. EFE, Mexico

“These artifacts emit musical sounds whose scale is not as the Western scale, that is, it has its own range, which experts have preliminarily defined as of Mayan type,” the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said in a statement.

After analyzing archeological acoustics through physics, ethnology and even ornithology studies applied to 125 instruments, it was concluded that the Mayas had a “musical scale” very different from the occidental one, the statement said.

After a year and a half of work, scholars have identified the possible sounds that were used in funeral and agricultural ceremonies to bring rain and to imitate or to hunt birds, said the institution.


This is the first time that an investigation is developed to study these instruments found in the Mayan Hall of the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA).

According to INAH, this study involved professional musicians who have been responsible for starting each instrument sound, identify their scales, their tones and semitones.

In addition, we found that most pre-Hispanic flutes emit scales with larger and more complex sound ranges compared to the Western scale of five notes, among them the triple flute from which 600 “sound range” were obtained.

The director of the MNA, Diana Magaloni, explained that the objects had been screened for their archaeological nature, but a study of its functioning as musical instruments was missing.

She added that this research project, developed by a group of experts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the INAH and directed by the expert in Mayan studies Francisca Zalaquett, is 90% completed and will continue with about 200 pre-Hispanic instruments from the Gulf cultures and 40 more from the Mexican culture.


Alaquett indicated that Mayan musical instruments are classified as “idiophones” like bells and rattles, “membranophones” like drums and “aerophones” or wind instruments, including simple double, triple or quadruple flutes, trumpet created from snails or from clay with a spiral form, ocarinas and whistles.

After reviewing the conservation condition of each instrument, professional musicians are responsible for obtaining and recording all possible tones free from conditions which could distort the sound, he said. “The number of resonances reached varies with each instrument, for example, whistles have up to four types, ocarinas as much as eight or nine” and the triple flute up to 600 combinations.

This study, he added, has been ran in other museums, research centers and the country’s Mayan archeological sites in order to establish the sound patterns of the instruments.