[Smt-talk] Diatonic Meaning and Other Considerations

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Tue Dec 3 13:05:29 PST 2013

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to address several points as follows.

1. Nicholas, I called the whole-tone tetrachord "Lydian" only to refer to the fact that Lydian mode begins with it.  I prefer the "whole-tone" name and do not assign any "original" title to it. However, the terms "Ionian-, Dorian-, and Phrygian tetrachords I encountered when I was 15 years old,  in two elementary theory of music books written between 1950-70, and I liked this differentiation.

2. No one can claim a true historical platform for our notion of modes and scales today. Firstly, it is widely suggested that Heinrich Glarean copied the original Greek scales wrongly, and our contemporary theory assumed the official  names and modal arrangements from him, rather than directly from the Greeks. What we call Dorian today  (starting on Re) is not the Greek Dorian, which starts on a different tone (was it mi?). Therefore, I am not trying to do back two thousand years to justify some practical methods which have a supposed connection to the past but have been modified. For me it is a simple and nice method to imagine the diatonic scales as combinations of four different diatonic tetrachords. Someone else may explain their structure differently.

3. I was very intrigued by Ildar's reflections on reaching the end of the first tetrachord and creating  a threshold - this for me is a great angle to explain melodic and harmonic events from another perspective, especially the critical role of the fourth degree and the S function. I also praise Ildar for not insisting that the S function "denies" the Tonic, as was customary explained in Soviet theory (Ildar, you remember, I had a little argument with our colleague Daniel Shutko in St. Petersburg, who is a strong proponent of this notion and insists that S is neutral and does not know where it is going, because it is a potential fundamental to T, as T is its potential overtone). I am convinced that if there is a tonal center, there is a force of gravity and vice versa, and S represents a level of instability which is greater than that of M, but weaker than that of D. Furthermore, one can tonicize a secondary tonic by using a secondary S alone (IV of or II of, IVm and II half-diminished 7 being the strongest secondary S) which happens more rarely than the combination II and V of... or IV and V of...
I proposed to Daniel to play a major triad out of the blue (no tuning, no, context), then make it minor and add a major sixth on top of it. Then see if he would be directed to resolve it somehow. The immediate aural suggestion (expectation) is to resolve it a perfect fourth down. This procedure reveals the nature of the Plagal relationship S-T, theoretically justified bu J. Ph. Rameau under the name of "Irregular Cadence". Of course, you can resolve the half-diminished in a variety of ways, but there are some expectations related to it as well as to the Mm7 chord. 

 I also recognize that I give a definition of a pure diatonic system by different examples, for instance: seven different tones that could be arranged in perfect fifths. The scalar arrangement of those tones yeilds a natural scale which is the embodiment/host of the old modes. Of course, these perfect fifths are a part of the well-tempered system.

4. On another note. Jazz departments and theory books use the term "harmonic major", and for melodic major they use "major flat six and flat seven" which is a true explanation of the structure, but is too long to pronounce and misses the logic behind the "melodic" label in general: 1) melodic minor and melodic major are the same scale, started on different degrees, and 2) the upper tetrachord of melodic minor is borrowed from natural major, while the upper tetrachord of melodic major is borrowed from natural minor. The double harmonic versions of major and minor are also the same scale started on different degrees. The harmonic versions, on the other hand, have identical upper tetrachords. All this logic is simple and clear for me (as I have not invented it but I was taught in it in the past) to use it in the explanation of the "expanded diatonic system" which includes not only pure diatonic, but also some chromatic scales, intervals and chords. One familiar example of a really altered chord is the fully diminished seventh chord, which resides outside of the pure diatonic system. It is so much domesticated that many teachers think of it as diatonic, and that in major it is borrowed from minor. It does not exist in either - it is a unique structure which is obtained through 50-50 modal interaction between both modes: major gave the raised 7th to minor, and minor gave the lowered 6th to major.



Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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