Pentatonic or five-tone scales are found in both hemitonic and anhemitonic versions (with or without the use of half-steps). Using the Western European lettering system, these scales would be notated approximately as C D E G A (anhemitonic) and C D E-flat G A-flat. The diatonic or seven-tone scales used by Na'vi do not follow the standard pattern of half-steps and whole steps that one would find in Western European tunings. They do use seven scale steps, but there ends the resemblance. Different modalities are created by using a different set of seven steps. Within the scope of the seven steps, the individual pitches and their relationships to one another may vary quite widely. Western musical analysis relies on a logarithmic scale developed by Alexander J. Ellis (1814–1890), which identified tiny intervals between pitches called “cents.” Ellis’ octave equaled twelve hundred cents, based on twelve equally tempered semitones of one hundred cents each. Using this type of analysis on the most commonly used Na’vi diatonic scale, as it was rendered during seventeen performances of social dance tunes, determined that the Na'vi “octave”―not a truly accurate designation since they do not use a tempered scale―comprises not 1200 cents but a standard of sixteen equal pamtseo’it (or “music small bits,” a term developed by xenomusicologists on Pandora), identical to the combined number of planets and moons in the Pandoran solar system.
Some songs use even smaller subdivisions or microtones. The smallest microtone that was recorded in Na’vi song was one-fifth pamtseo‘it. Again, the division of a pamtseo‘it into five microtones possibly reflects the five planets of the Alpha Centauri A system. The best illustration of Na’vi microtonality is heard in their great banquet songs. The musical texture is divided between men and women: women sing the melody and lyrics in their typical heterophonic fashion while men sing a drone. However, rather than holding a steady pitch as a drone, each man independently fluctuates his pitch microtonally, varying up to one and three-fifths pamtseo ‘it on either side of the fundamental pitch. One major difficulty in transcribing Na’vi songs is that they have no set pitches, standardized tunings, or tempered scales. The actual intervals between notes in each scale will vary from genre to genre, song to song, and even performance to performance of the same song. Some early investigators believed that the pitches for songs were based on the tunings of the musical instruments that accompany the songs. However, none of the musical instruments of the Na’vi are used as melodic instruments except for the large musical bow, which plays microtonally. The first writings on Na’vi music suggested that scales were based on the pitches created from the tree drum. That was quickly disproved when it was realized that each tree drum creates its own set of pitches.
Some of those pitches might be matched by Na’vi singers, or they might be completely ignored since Na’vi perceive the tree drum as a rhythmic accompaniment. What seems to be important to the Na’vi is that the basic melodic contour is kept intact. Therefore, a more appropriate way of transcribing Na’vi song is to illustrate its melodic contour, with the understanding that the actual size of the intervals may vary from performer to performer, song to song, etc. Below is an example of the melodic contour of a social dance song in a diatonic scale. It was recorded during a mating celebration and illustrates the typical cascading quality of women’s music and the characteristically wide vocal range.
- Pandorapedia - Na'vi Music Theory article; Pitches, Intervals, and Scales subsection