The most important instrument in Shalian music is the human voice. Instruments such as guitars, Talman fiddles, violins, pianos, kanteles and various percussion instruments are also used.
The Shalian kantele (wáirdıan) is traditionally tuned to a 8 note-per-fifth scale but the 8 notes can be changed on the fly. Most modern wáirdıans have levers fixed to 22edo while some (used for "avant-garde" music) can make finer adjustments.
Vocal polyphony (sájer-nóoslownth 'group singing') is an important part of Shalian music, especially in ceremonies such as coming of age parties, weddings, festivities, and funerals. Troupes of singers are trained from a young age to harmonize, vocalize rhythms, clap, snap their fingers and make various gestures. Sung music reflects the glottal stops, stress accent and long-short rhythms of the Shalian language.
There is also a tradition of orally transmitted folk songs (amár-nóoslownth 'mother's song'). Composed solo vocal music (jái'ner-nóoslownth 'exquisite singing'), to the contrary, was traditionally upper class music as opposed to folk music.
Shalian music is based on decatonic scales, which are built on
- 7-limit tempered pentatonic scales which are commonly used to build tension, and
- septimal tetrads (esp. voicings of 4:5:6:7) which may be used as harmonic resolutions.
The scales are modes (possibly with chromatic modifications) of
- pentachordal: G G#v A Bv C C#v D Ev F F#v G
- symmetric: G G#v A Bv C C#v D Eb^ F F#v G
Old Shalian and Idosian sources describe a just intonation system based on ratios of 3 and 5, which was much like the system of 22 shrutis described in early Indian works.
When tetrachords from Hetom became popular, Shalian scholar Bów'ti Asínsim ("Bów'ti the Swuntsim") tried to extend the early 22-note system to make it more compatible with playing various tetrachords found in Hetomic music theory. The result was a scale of 34 notes per octave.
As Shalian music embraced vocal polyphony it saw a move away from tetrachords and towards more harmonic, chord-based sounds. Emphasizing JI ratios of 7 became desirable. Thus fixed pitch instruments were tuned to 22-note well-tempered scales with good harmonic sevenths. Modern Shalian music is standardized to 22-tone equal temperament, which does not always reflect musical reality exactly, as unaccompanied Shalian polyphonic vocal music is intoned more accurately and sometimes uses bends.
Consonance and dissonance
- perfect fifth and fourth
- 5/4 and 6/5
- 9/8~8/7 and 7/6
- tritone or half-octave
- 16/15 and 10/9~11/10~12/11
- 11/8 and 16/11
- 1-step and 21-step intervals
Triads may be considered stable in some contexts but they are more often used to "modulate" rather than to stabilize.
Of the decatonic 1-4-7-9 tetrads, 4:5:6:7 is considered the most consonant tetrad, followed by the minor tetrad 1/(4:5:6:7), followed by other types.