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Music Notation and Terminology

CHAPTER VIII

Scales (Continued)

84. The minor diatonic scale is used in several slightly different forms, but the characteristic interval between the first and third tones (which differentiates it from the major scale) remains the same in every case. This interval between the first and third tones consists of four half-steps in the major scale and of three half-steps in the minor scale and this difference in size has given rise to the designation major for the scale having the larger third, and minor for the scale having the smaller one.

85. The original (or primitive) form of the minor scale has its tones arranged as follows.

1 whole
step
2 half
step
3 whole
step
4 whole
step
5 half
step
6 whole
step
7 whole
step
8

As its name implies, this is the oldest of the three forms (being derived from the old Greek Aeolian scale), but because of the absence of a "leading tone" it is suitable for the simplest one-part music only, and is therefore little used at present.

86. The harmonic minor scale is like the primitive form except that it substitutes a tone one half-step higher for the seventh tone of the older (i.e., the primitive) form. This change was made because the development of writing music in several parts (particularly harmonic part-writing) made necessary a "leading tone," i.e., a tone with a strong tendency to move on up to the key-tone as a closing point. In order to secure a tone with such a strongly upward tendency the interval between seven and eight had to be reduced in size to a half-step. It should be noted that this change in the seventh tone of the scale caused an interval of a step-and-a-half between the sixth and seventh tones of the scale.

1 whole
step
2 half
step
3 whole
step
4 whole
step
5 half
step
6 step and
a half
7 half
step
8

87. The melodic minor scale substitutes a tone one half-step higher than six as well as one a half-step higher than seven, but this change is made in the ascending scale only, the descending scale being like the primitive form. The higher sixth (commonly referred to as the "raised sixth") was used to get rid of the unmelodic interval of a step-and-a-half[15] (augmented second), while the return to the primitive form in descending is made because the ascending form is too much like the tonic major scale.

1 whole
step
2 half
step
3 whole
step
4 whole
step
5 whole
step
6 whole
step
7 half
step
8
7 whole
step
6 half
step
5 whole
step
4 whole
step
3 half
step
2 whole
step
1

This form is used only to a very limited extent, and then principally in vocal music, the harmonic form being in almost universal use in spite of the augmented second.

88. The minor scale in its various positions (up to five sharps and five flats) and in all three forms follows: a composition based on any one of these forms (or upon a mixture of them, which often occurs) is said to be in the minor mode. It will be noted that the first four tones are alike in all three forms; i.e., the lower tetrachord in the minor scale is invariable no matter, what may happen to the upper tetrachord. The sign + marks the step-and-a-half.

 

[Enlarge]

[Listen to A minor scales]

 

Note.—The student is advised to recite the harmonic form of the minor scale as was suggested in the case of the major scale, noting that the "raised seventh" does not affect the key-signature. E.g.,—E—F—G—A—B—C—D—E; signature, one sharp, F.

89. A minor scale having the same signature as a major scale is said to be its relative minor. E.g.,—e is the relative minor of G, c of E, d of F, etc., the small letter being used to refer to the minor key or scale, while the capital letter indicates the major key or scale unless accompanied by the word minor. Relative keys are therefore defined as those having the same signature. G and e are relative keys, as are also A and f, etc.

90. A minor scale beginning with the same tone as a major scale is referred to as its tonic minor. Thus, e.g., c with three flats in its signature is the tonic minor of C with all degrees in natural condition; e with one sharp is the tonic minor of E with four sharps, etc. Tonic keys are therefore those having the same key-tone.

91. The eight tones of the diatonic scale (both major and minor) are often referred to by specific names, as follows:

1. Tonic—the tone. (This refers to the fact that the tonic is the principal tone, or generating tone of the key, i.e., it is the tone.)

2. Super-tonic—above the tone.

3. Mediant—midway between tonic and dominant.

4. Sub-dominant—the under dominant. (This name does not refer to the position of the tone under the dominant but to the fact that the fifth below the tonic is also a dominant tone—the under dominant—just as the fifth above is the upper dominant).

5. Dominant—the governing tone. (From the Latin word dominus meaning master.)

6. Super-dominant—above the dominant. Or Sub-mediant—midway between tonic and sub-dominant.

7. Leading tone—the tone which demands resolution to the tonic (one-half step above it).

8. Octave—the eighth tone.

92. The syllables commonly applied to the various major and minor scales in teaching sight-singing are as follows:[16]

Major—DO, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA, TI, DO.

Minor[17]—original—LA, TI, DO, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA.
harmonic—LA, TI, DO, RE, MI, FA, SI, LA.
melodic —LA, TI, DO, RE, MI, FI, SI, LA, SOL, FA, MI, RE, DO, TI, LA.

It is interesting to study the changes in both spelling and pronunciation that have occurred (and are still occurring) in these syllables. The first one (ut) was changed to DO as early as the sixteenth century because of the difficulty of producing a good singing tone on ut. For the same reason and also in order to avoid having two diatonic syllables with the same initial letter, the tonic-sol-fa system (invented in England about 1812 and systematized about 1850) changed SI to TI and this change has been almost universally adopted by teachers of sight-singing in this country. The more elaborate tonic-sol-fa spelling of the diatonic syllables (DOH, LAH, etc.), has not, however, been favorably received in this country and the tendency seems to be toward still further simplification rather than toward elaboration. It is probable that further changes in both spelling and pronunciation will be made in the near future, one such change that seems especially desirable being some other syllable than RE for the second tone of the major scale, so that the present syllable may be reserved for "flat-two," thus providing a uniform vowel-sound for all intermediate tones of the descending chromatic scale, as is already the case in the ascending form.

93. The chromatic scale[18] is one which proceeds always by half-steps. Its intervals are therefore always equal no matter with what tone it begins. Since, however, we have (from the standpoint of the piano keyboard) five pairs of tones[19] which are enharmonically the same, it may readily be seen that the chromatic scale might be notated in all sorts of fashions, and this is in fact the real status of the matter, there being no one method uniformly agreed upon by composers.

Parry (Grove's Dictionary, article chromatic) recommends writing the scale with such accidentals as can occur in chromatic chords without changing the key in which the passage occurs. Thus, taking C as a type, "the first accidental will be D, as the upper note of the minor ninth on the tonic; the next will be E, the minor third of the key; the next F, the major third of the super-tonic—all of which can occur without causing modulation—and the remaining two will be A and B, the minor sixth and seventh of the key." According to this plan the chromatic scale beginning with C would be spelled—C, D, D, E, E, F, F, G, A, A, B, B, C—the form being the same both ascending and descending. This is of course written exclusively from a harmonic standpoint and the advantage of such a form is its definiteness.

94. For sight-singing purposes the chromatic scale[20] is usually written by representing the intermediate tones in ascending by sharps, (in some cases naturals and double-sharps), and the intermediate tones in descending by flats (sometimes naturals and double-flats). The chromatic scale in nine different positions, written from this standpoint, follows, and the syllables most commonly applied in sight-singing have also been added. In the first two scales the student of harmony is asked to note that because of the very common practice of modulating to the dominant and sub-dominant keys, the intermediate tones 4 and 7 are quite universally used in both ascending and descending melody passages. In other words the scales that follow would more nearly represent actual usage if in each case 4 (FI) were substituted for 5 (SE) in the descending scale; and if 7 (TE) were substituted for 6 (LI) in the ascending form.

 

[Listen to C chromatic scale]

 

Note.—In writing chromatic scales from this sight-singing standpoint the student is urged to adopt a three-step process; first, writing the major diatonic scale both ascending and descending; second, marking the half-steps; third, inserting accidental notes calling for the intermediate tones. In the above chromatic scales these intermediate tones have been represented by black note-heads so as to differentiate them from the notes representing diatonic scale tones.

95. The whole-step scale (the third type mentioned in Sec. 79) is, as its name implies, a scale in which the intervals between the tones consist in every instance of whole-steps. This reduces the number of tones in the scale to seven. Beginning with C the scale reads: C, D, E, F or G, A, B, C. This scale has been used somewhat extensively by the ultramodern French school of composition represented by Debussy, Ravel, and others, but is not making any progress toward universal adoption. The remarks of a recent English writer[21] on this subject may be interesting to the student who is puzzled by the apparent present-day tendencies of French music. He says:

"The student of some interesting modern developments will also speedily discover that the adoption of the so-called whole-tone scale as a basis of music is, except upon a keyed instrument tuned to the compromise of equal temperament, unnatural and impossible. No player upon a stringed instrument can play the scale of whole-tones and arrive at an octave which is in tune with the starting note, unless he deliberately changes one of the notes on the road and alters it while playing it. The obvious result of the application of the whole-tone scale to an orchestra or a string quartet would be to force them to adopt the equal temperament of the pianoforte, and play every interval except the octave out of tune. When this modification had taken hold all music in the pure scale would be distorted and destroyed, unless string players were to face the practically impossible drudgery of studying both the equal temperament and the pure scale from the start, and were able to tackle either form at a moment's notice. A thorough knowledge of the natural genesis of the scale of western nations will be the best antidote to fads founded upon ignorance of it. It is a curious commentary upon this question that Wagner, in the opening of the third act of Tristan (bars 6 to 10), experimented with the whole-tone scale and drew his pen through it, as was to be expected from a composer whose every work proves the writer to have had the pure scale inbred in him."

There may be some difference of opinion among acousticians as to whether Mr. Stanford is correct in his scientific assumptions regarding the difference between "tempered" and "pure" scales,[22] but even so, there is a far more potent reason why the whole-step scale will probably never become popular as the major and minor scales now are, viz., the fact that it offers no possibility of inculcating tonality feeling, which has always been the basis of even the simplest primitive music. Tonality scales give rise to a feeling of alternate periods of contraction and relaxation—an active tone (or chord) followed by a passive one, but no such effect is possible in the whole-step scale, and it seems suitable therefore only for that class of music whose outlines are purposely intended to be vague and indefinite—the impressionistic style of music writing.



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