More on scales and modes

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Nuno
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More on scales and modes

Post by Nuno » October 18th, 2012, 1:14 pm

I found this short post on scales and modes:

http://imslpjournal.org/scales-v-mode/

Basically they argue the difference between scales and modes as "scales do not have starting notes, but modes do have starting notes. Modes have tonics, scales do not have tonics. Scales define a distance (called “scalar distance”), but have little to nothing to do with tonality in general."

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by Alan Green » October 18th, 2012, 2:35 pm

That's an interesting agument.

My "Chambers Dictionary of Music" defines a "Tonic" as "The key note of a scale"
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by NoteBoat » October 18th, 2012, 7:45 pm

Of course scales have tonics. The author is dead wrong.

I'll take my critique of this step by step.

In modern music theory, a scale is actually a device for measuring the distance between oitch classes

I have no idea what an "oitch" class is; I'm guessing he means "pitch classes". But that's not true.

"Pitch class" has two meanings. In the first, it refers to all notes that can be called by a specific name like "C". So the pitch class of C in this sense refers to every possible C. But if you play c'' - D - EE - f' and so on, you do NOT get a major scale - the word "scale" means "ladder" (it's from the Latin word 'scala' - we still use it in that sense as in "scale a mountain"). Playing any C followed by any D and then any E does not create a musical ladder.

In the second sense, "pitch class" refers to an algebraic system of marking pitches. This is a consequence of atonal music - it's helpful in analyzing atonal music to reduce C# or Db to some standardized notation, so you can see at a glance that they'll sound the same. In this sense, a "C major scale" will be 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 0. If the author had actually bothered to convert C major and A natural minor scales to pitch classes, he would have instantly seen that this isn't the same thing as 9, 11, 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9. Because the two series are different, they MUST be different scales, and they will produce different sounds.

Abstrically, a scale simply defines an intervalic “scale step”.

Abstractly, he's correct. When you say "major scale" you are talking in the abstract, and you mean an arrangement of intervals M2-M2-m2-M2-M2-M2-m2. But when you say "C major scale" you are talking specifics, and you mean C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. "C major scale" defines BOTH the interval arrangement and the tonic.

Modes, on the other hand, are defined by their starting pitch-class.

This is only true if you define the tonic in naming the mode. Here's where he starts to conflate his idea of "scale" as being abstract, and "mode" being specific. "Dorian mode" is abstract, just as "Major scale" is. You can talk about Dorian mode WITHOUT specifying a starting pitch, just as you can with Major scale.

A diatonic scale with no sharps or flats that starts on the pitch class “D” is in Dorian Mode.

He has defined his tonality (no sharps or flats, which can make any of the seven modes related to C major), but he has then gone further to define a specific: a tonal center of D. Of course this results in D Dorian - just as defining the starting pitch class as C results in C major. Had he spoken of Dorian in the abstract, as he feels the term "scale" demands, he would have had any arrangement of M2-m2-M2-M2-M2-m2-M2. This describes ALL Dorian modes (or scales). It is only when we also define the tonic that we get a specific result.

When the starting note of dorian mode is D, it is also a C major scale or A minor scale.

No, it's not. When we've defined the tonic, it's a D scale of some kind. If we also identify the scale type as Dorian, it's D Dorian. But a D scale is never a C scale or an A scale, regardless of the type. They may share identical notes... but if the arguments is that "C scale" can mean any mode, but "D Dorian" cannot, what's the difference? The pitches of D Dorian are identical to those of E Phrygian. In addition, if we continue the line of thought to its logical conclusion, he's arguing that "C Major scale" can mean seven different things, but "C Ionian mode" will mean only one. But they're both synonyms to describe the same intervallic pattern beginning from the same tonic.

The bottom line is that his logic is faulty. "Dorian" or "Major" tell you the relationship of sounds to the tonic. They are both abstract. He uses the largely academic term "pitch class" to imply that his view has some academic weight. But if you apply pitch classes to the scales you have:

D Dorian: 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 0, 2
C Major: 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 0
A natural Minor: 9, 11, 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9

Saying these are the same thing is like saying "your chemist" or "hit my source" are both identical to "music theory" - because they all contain the same elements.
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by Nuno » October 19th, 2012, 3:12 pm

:)

Tom, thank you for the explanation. I found it while I was looking for scores in the imslp.org site. It sounded weird to me and contradictory to that I understand as scales and modes thanks to your posts and articles.

This idea refutes perfectly his argument: "if we continue the line of thought to its logical conclusion, he's arguing that "C Major scale" can mean seven different things, but "C Ionian mode" will mean only one".

One more time, it proves that internet must be read carefully... I considered imslp.org a good site.

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by Rocket Dog » October 19th, 2012, 11:17 pm

Alan Green wrote:That's an interesting agument.

My "Chambers Dictionary of Music" defines a "Tonic" as "The key note of a scale"
Yes a very interesting argument, but I wonder how he arrived at his conclusion? I think your dictionary defines it perfectly. I have NEVER come across the thought that scales do not have tonics!

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by Fretsource » October 21st, 2012, 10:01 am

NoteBoat wrote:
Saying these are the same thing is like saying "your chemist" or "hit my source" are both identical to "music theory" - because they all contain the same elements.
How on earth did you come up with those? :lol: That's great. So music theory has 3 'modes'. I tried to come up with another but all I could manage was "Curse my hito" - It's a bit of a cheat, though, as hito is a Spanish word.

On topic - While agreeing with all of the above, I've often wondered if there should be a better term than 'tonic' for the first note of scales that intentionally avoid a tonal centre, e.g., the whole tone scale. 'Root' is sometimes used but, strictly speaking, 'root' applies to chords and, to a lesser extent, intervals.

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by greybeard » October 21st, 2012, 11:24 am

Anyone who invents words like "abstrically" and "oitch" shouldn't be take too seriously.
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by NoteBoat » October 21st, 2012, 2:28 pm

Fretsource, I just googled "anagram generator" I figured it would take less time than looking for my Scrabble set :)

I agree with you on the whole tone scale. Symmetrical scales don't have tonal centers, per se, because they don't have a unique arrangement of intervals - while you can make seven "modes" of the major scale, and each one will be unique, any "mode" of the whole tone scale is exactly the same intervals. I'm aware of a couple of theorists who've written about this, but I don't know of any label other than tonic or root.
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by tinsmith » October 21st, 2012, 4:29 pm

You know root I understand....tonic sounds like it's supposed to be something else.
Noteboat, I appreciate your posts, but you talk way over my head......& I studied modes a bit...

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by greybeard » October 21st, 2012, 10:47 pm

Tonic comes from the word "tone", so maybe the first degree of a scale is its "tone-ic" base/origin.
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by AskAGuitarPro » October 30th, 2012, 5:25 pm

Perhaps instead of using "root" or "tonic", we should use "resolution" or "resolve". These terms seem more appropriate for what we're comprehending audibly.

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by NoteBoat » October 30th, 2012, 5:44 pm

'Resolve' makes sense, but 'tonic' conveys a bit more information - because it's the final resolve. In many styles of music you've got modulations, sometimes so many that a piece will wind through several keys. We hear each of those cadences as a resolution, but each is also heard in relation to the tonic. (Skilled arrangers take advantage of that, by using an inversion for the intermediate chords of resolution so they don't sound quite as final as the ultimate resolution to the tonic.)
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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by Fretsource » November 1st, 2012, 8:34 am

AskAGuitarPro wrote:Perhaps instead of using "root" or "tonic", we should use "resolution" or "resolve". These terms seem more appropriate for what we're comprehending audibly.
There's nothing wrong with the term, tonic for scales that actually have a tonic. It's a good term. My point was that it's less suitable for scales used in music that doesn't resolve to a tonic - i,e, where there's NO resolution (e.g., whole tone scale based). So "resolve" and "resolution" would be even more misleading than 'tonic' I think. Also, in tonal music it would make some quite confusing sentences, such as 'resolving to the resolve' or 'a resolution to the resolution'.

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by AskAGuitarPro » November 3rd, 2012, 1:38 pm

NoteBoat wrote:'Resolve' makes sense, but 'tonic' conveys a bit more information - because it's the final resolve. In many styles of music you've got modulations, sometimes so many that a piece will wind through several keys. We hear each of those cadences as a resolution, but each is also heard in relation to the tonic. (Skilled arrangers take advantage of that, by using an inversion for the intermediate chords of resolution so they don't sound quite as final as the ultimate resolution to the tonic.)
Well said. I believe you can have a moving "resolution", especially in the cases where you do not return back to the original key. Either way, the beauty of moving through keys to give the ears new reference points during a song is truly ear candy.

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Re: More on scales and modes

Post by AskAGuitarPro » November 3rd, 2012, 1:48 pm

Fretsource wrote:
AskAGuitarPro wrote:Perhaps instead of using "root" or "tonic", we should use "resolution" or "resolve". These terms seem more appropriate for what we're comprehending audibly.
There's nothing wrong with the term, tonic for scales that actually have a tonic. It's a good term. My point was that it's less suitable for scales used in music that doesn't resolve to a tonic - i,e, where there's NO resolution (e.g., whole tone scale based). So "resolve" and "resolution" would be even more misleading than 'tonic' I think. Also, in tonal music it would make some quite confusing sentences, such as 'resolving to the resolve' or 'a resolution to the resolution'.
That's an interesting way to look at it and I tend to agree. If there were songs (or musical passages in movies, for example) where a whole tone scale is consistently the musical theme, it's certainly less definable as having a tonic or resolution. In these scenarios the notes are more of a recipe and don't tend the pull the ear towards one particular tone.

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