Chinese music, unlike western music, uses a five-tone scale known as the pentatonic scale. The easiest way to see this on a piano is to play the black keys only. The scale will sound oriental. This however, is an oversimplification, as in many Chinese instruments, a Western Diatonic scale is achievable, and 7-note scales are frequently used. Also, the music of ethnic minorities in China is often closely related to that of their neighbors, and microtonal adjustments of pitch are also used.

In the Chinese pentatonic, the most commonly used scale is usually D. The notes are then as follows:

D E F# A B D

Contrary to much of Western music, traditional Chinese music based on the pentatonic scale does not emphasize a tonal center as much. As such, listeners can often interpret pieces as essentially bitonal, focusing on two tonal centers simultaneous. A Western analysis will interpret these keys as having a relative major/minor relationship.