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CHAPTER 5:
How Keys and Modes REALLY Work
  
5.1 Scales from Around the World

 
Art is the opposite of chaos. Art is organized chaos.

                                         —IGOR STRAVINSKY

 

PAGE INDEX
  

5.1.1 What Scales Have In Common: Tones In Simple Frequency Ratios

5.1.2 Major Pentatonic Scale

5.1.3 Minor Pentatonic Scale

5.1.4 Why “Similar” Scales Sound So Different: The Staircase Analogy

5.1.5 Blues Scale

5.1.6 An Arabic Scale

5.1.7 Indian or Whole Tone Scale: An Equal-interval Scale That Works

5.1.8 A Chinese Pentatonic Scale

5.1.9 Hungarian Gypsy (Roma) Scale

 

~ • ~ • ~ • ~


5.1.1
W
HAT SCALES HAVE IN COMMON: TONES IN SIMPLE FREQUENCY RATIOS

 

Thousands of years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, people made discoveries, independently, about the connections between tunes (songs) and scales (ordered collections of pitches used in the tunes). Some scales eventually fell out of use. Others became fixtures of the prevailing culture.


     All musical-sounding scales consist of a small selection of notes—typically five to seven intervals (six to eight notes) to the octave. The notes that comprise scales everywhere tend to have simple frequency ratio relationships with the first note of the scale. You can play most widely-used musical scales on a piano or guitar, regardless of the scale's culture of origin.



The Meaning of “Octave”

 

The term “octave” originally described the span of the eight-note (seven-interval) diatonic order of tones and semitones. Now the term simply applies to the interval associated with the frequency ratio 2:1.


So, whether a scale has five, six, seven, eight, thirteen, or twenty-two notes, the span from the lowermost to the uppermost note—the note with a frequency of double the lowermost note—is still referred to as an “octave.”

 


     Figure 22 below shows the (non-musical) chromatic scale. It's just a rack of 12 equally-spaced semitone intervals—13 notes, including the tonic notes at each end, called the prime or interval of unison and the octave.

 

     To play the chromatic scale, you start with any note and simply play adjacent semitones until you get to the next octave note. Postmodern feline composers the world over use this scale.




FIGURE 22  Chromatic Scale



 



 

     The scales in the following discussion use a variety of samplings of tones from the chromatic scale.



5.1.2

MAJOR PENTATONIC SCALE

 

You will find this Pythagorean scale in every major musical culture worldwide. The name pentatonic derives from the fact that it has five intervals, although the scale has six notes, including the prime and the octave.


     You can play this scale on your guitar or keyboard starting from any note, as long as you preserve the interval order, like this (the dots indicate the notes; the labels between indicate the type of interval between notes):


● tone ● tone ● aug 2nd ● tone ● aug 2nd ●


     Figure 23 clarifies which tones you would select from the chromatic scale to get the major pentatonic scale, and the size of the intervals from tone to tone.





FIGURE 23  Major Pentatonic Scale (5 Intervals, 6 Notes)



 




     This scale is widely used in Africa and Asia (it's the Chinese Mongolian scale), in Celtic music, and in North American folk, gospel and blues music. Some familiar songs that use the major pentatonic scale are:

 

        “Auld Lang Syne” 

        “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” 

        “Amazing Grace”


     Here's an easy way to remember the interval order for this important scale: play the black keys only on the piano, starting with F♯ (that's the first (leftmost) key in the group of three black keys).



5.1.3

MINOR PENTATONIC SCALE

 

The minor pentatonic scale (Figure 24 below) uses the same notes as the major pentatonic scale, but in a different order. The interval order is as follows (5 intervals, 6 notes):


● aug 2nd ● tone ● tone ● aug 2nd ● tone ●


     To remember the interval order for this scale, play the black keys only on the piano, starting with D♯ (that's the second—rightmost—key in the group of two black keys).


 



FIGURE 24  Minor Pentatonic Scale (5 Intervals, 6 Notes)



 




     Both the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic scales use the same five black keys on the piano. Each scale has the same number of “tone” intervals (three), and the same number of “augmented 2nd” intervals (two). Yet these two pentatonic scales sound markedly different from each other. How come?


     Because, with any scale, each of the constituent tones forms an interval with the tonic note. So, if you change the order of the intervals, you change the character of the entire scale. Even if you use the same number and same sizes of intervals.


     It goes back to ratios of frequencies.


     Each tone of a scale has a unique frequency ratio with respect to the tonic note. If you move even one tone to a different position within a scale, you change its frequency ratio with respect to the tonic note—and with all the other notes in the scale. This changes the sound of the entire scale. Consequently, it changes the character of melodies crafted using the scale.


     In other words, if you move even one tone in a scale, it becomes a different scale with different melodic potential.



5.1.4

WHY “SIMILAR SCALES SOUND SO DIFFERENT: THE STAIRCASE ANALOGY

 

Think of staircases with differing heights of the individual steps. The floor at the bottom of the staircase represents the tonic note. The upper floor is the octave note. The intervals are the vertical distances you go as you climb the steps. Each staircase is the same overall height, connecting the lower floor to the same upper floor.


     Figure 25 visually represents the difference between the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales.




FIGURE 25  Scales As “Staircases”






 

     Even though both pentatonic staircases have three regular-sized steps and two large steps, the difference in the order of the two step sizes means you have a different experience climbing each staircase.


     Just as re-ordering step-sizes makes for unique staircases and climbing adventures, so re-ordering intervals makes for unique scales and musical experiences.

 


A Horse-friendly Hotel with Chromatic Staircases

 

WARNING: DO NOT try to ride your horse up a pentatonic staircase. As you can see in Figure 25 above, a pentatonic staircase is too steep, and the steps are too uneven. Ex-Marshal McDillon had to ban horses from all the hotels in Dodge City because so many horses got hurt on the pentatonic staircases. Marshal Puma has decided to keep the ban in place, despite her falling out with Ex-Marshal McDillon and her affinity for cheap plot twists in Classic Westerns.


If you're looking for a horse-friendly hotel, try the Fairmont Royal York, a luxury hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Since the late 1940s, the Fairmont Royal York has welcomed strangers from the West, especially strangers from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to ride on up to the registration desk on their horses. According to some reports, this policy also applies to chuckwagon drivers with teams of horses. The hotel even has specially-constructed smooth chromatic staircases to make it easy for guests on horseback to get around inside the hotel.



5.1.5

BLUES SCALE

 

The blues scale (Figure 26 below) is almost the same as the minor pentatonic scale, except that it has an extra note in the middle. The addition of that extra note, sometimes called a blue note, gives this scale a considerably different sound from the minor pentatonic.



FIGURE 26  Blues Scale (6 Intervals, 7 Notes)






5.1.6

AN ARABIC SCALE

 

Figure 27 below shows a scale used in the Middle East. Try playing it on your guitar or piano.


     Compare this Arabic scale with the familiar major diatonic scale (all the white keys on the piano, beginning with C). The Arabic scale has four semitone intervals, including two consecutive semitones as you pass through the tonic note. These dissonances give the scale an exotic, other-worldly sound to Western ears.


     You can play this scale starting with any note on your guitar or piano. As usual, just make sure you preserve the order of the intervals, like this:


● semitone ● aug 2nd ● semitone ● tone ● semitone ● aug 2nd ● semitone ●




FIGURE 27  An Arabic Scale (7 Intervals, 8 Notes)







5.1.7

INDIAN OR WHOLE TONE SCALE: AN EQUAL-INTERVAL SCALE THAT WORKS

 

Normally, an equal-interval scale sounds like rubbish. But here's an Indian equal-interval scale that sounds musical (Figure 28). It has a dream-like, fanciful quality. Almost surreal.


     This scale contains consonant intervals with simple frequency ratios (major thirds, minor sixths) and dissonant intervals (major seconds, tritones, minor sevenths).


     This whole tone scale below is one of many scales used in Indian music. Another divides the octave into 22 “microtones”—intervals smaller than a semitone.


     Impressionist composers such as Claude Debussy used the whole tone scale in many compositions.




FIGURE 28  An Equal-interval Indian or Whole Tone Scale (6 Intervals, 7 Notes)



 




5.1.8

A CHINESE PENTATONIC SCALE

 

The major pentatonic scale (Figure 23 above) is the same as the Chinese Mongolian scale.


     The following pentatonic scale is also widely used in China (Figure 29):




FIGURE 29  A Chinese Scale



 




5.1.9

HUNGARIAN GYPSY (ROMA) SCALE

 

And, finally, to get your blood a-boilin', here's the Hungarian minor scale, better known as the Hungarian Gypsy scale or the Hungarian Roma scale (Figure 30).


     Get somebody to play a fast tune with this scale. Dance until dizzy.




FIGURE 30  Hungarian Gypsy (Roma) Scale






~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

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~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

You are reading the FREE SAMPLE Chapters 1 through 6 of the acclaimed 12-Chapter book, How Music REALLY Works!, 2nd Edition. Here's what's in Chapters 7 through 12. 

 

To order the book, click here:

   

  
 

 

 

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

   Top

 

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