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why is the major scale constructed like it is?

Posted by expuddle 
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
March 31, 2015 09:30AM
Lineanus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> JonR wrote
> > >That sounds like a C harmonic major exercise to
>
> > me. C and Fm chords.
> > >IOW, I hear C as the root, not G
> I did score it in C
>
> >How you score it is not the issue. That's just
> writing.
> >The key is what sounds like the key. It only
> makes sense to call it "F lydian b3" if you hear F
> as the keynote.
>
> Where did you get all that? "not G"? "call it F
> if I hear F as the key"?. I composed it in C,
> just as you thought in the first place.

You said
"I was referring to Lydian b3 or Melodic minor #4. fourth mode of Harmonic major. As in my composition "Into Her Everlasting Love"."

That implies you think the keynote is F. I don't hear it that way. I hear the keynote as C, meaning the modal issue doesn't arise. It's just a C harmonic major tune, to my ears (albeit with an odd final chord). Which note do you hear as the keynote?

> >What's wrong with "Fm/G"?
>
> If you prefer that, it's FmM7/G. I
> don't.

OK, I didn't hear the E note. So your chord is G C F Ab E (G in bass)?

You can call it what you like, of course, but in my experience FmM7/G is a more conventional - and therefore more easily readable - symbol than Cadd b6, 11/G.

> >Different point.
>
> Different point from what?

Your George Martin quote was talking about ending on V-I, which is a very different effect from ending on V (which is how I hear your final chord).
Lineanus
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
March 31, 2015 03:06PM
JonR wrote:
---------------------------

>You said
>"I was referring to Lydian b3 or Melodic minor #4. fourth mode of Harmonic major. As in my composition "Into Her Everlasting Love"."

>That implies you think the keynote is F. I don't hear it that way. I hear the keynote as C, meaning the modal issue doesn't arise. It's just a C >harmonic major tune, to my ears (albeit with an odd final chord). Which note do you hear as the keynote?

Ah, I get it now. I need to be more careful when I reply. I hear, composed, and scored that song in the key of C, and the scale as C harmonic major, just like you hear it. I renumber, and thus rename, the scales over each chord I play. So in the key of C, I view Dm as dorian, Em as phrygian, F as lydian, and so fourth. So, when I play a iv chord in "Into Her Everlasting Love" I view it as Lydian b3. I need to keep in mind that most people don't do that, or perhaps very few people do that.

>So your chord is G C F Ab E (G in bass)?
>You can call it what you like, of course, but in my experience FmM7/G is a more conventional - and therefore more easily readable - symbol than >Cadd b6, 11/G.

The voicing of the final chord is G C E Ab C F with another C F an octave above. Since I hear it as a (rather odd) version of C/G I do prefer Cadd b6, 11/G. Through the rest of the song I put C in the bass on that chord.

My remark about George Martin was intended as casual conversation and not as an explanation of anything other than I don't go back to a simple C triad to resolve the song.
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
March 31, 2015 04:04PM
Lineanus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> JonR wrote:
> ---------------------------
>
> >You said
> >"I was referring to Lydian b3 or Melodic minor
> #4. fourth mode of Harmonic major. As in my
> composition "Into Her Everlasting Love"."
>
> >That implies you think the keynote is F. I don't
> hear it that way. I hear the keynote as C, meaning
> the modal issue doesn't arise. It's just a C
> >harmonic major tune, to my ears (albeit with an
> odd final chord). Which note do you hear as the
> keynote?
>
> Ah, I get it now. I need to be more careful when
> I reply. I hear, composed, and scored that song
> in the key of C, and the scale as C harmonic
> major, just like you hear it. I renumber, and
> thus rename, the scales over each chord I play.
> So in the key of C, I view Dm as dorian, Em as
> phrygian, F as lydian, and so fourth. So, when I
> play a iv chord in "Into Her Everlasting Love" I
> view it as Lydian b3. I need to keep in mind that
> most people don't do that, or perhaps very few
> people do that.

Yes, because it's too much thinking, for no real purpose. ;-)
Those modal sounds do exist, for as long as the chord lasts - if it lasts long enough.
More important, in key of C major, Dm is not a "dorian" chord in any real or useful sense. It's "ii in C major", not "I in D dorian."
IOW, in D dorian mode, Dm sounds like the key chord (of a minor mode), the tonal centre. It doesn't sound like that when it's ii in C major.
So modal terms are really a distraction from what's actually going on.

But if thinking that way helps you, no problem...

> >So your chord is G C F Ab E (G in bass)?
> >You can call it what you like, of course, but in
> my experience FmM7/G is a more
> conventional - and therefore more easily readable
> - symbol than >Cadd b6, 11/G.
>
> The voicing of the final chord is G C E Ab C F
> with another C F an octave above. Since I hear it
> as a (rather odd) version of C/G I do prefer
> Cadd b6, 11/G. Through the rest of the
> song I put C in the bass on that chord.

As I say, for yourself you can call it what you like. Conventional symbols are better when working with other musicians. ;-)

> My remark about George Martin was intended as
> casual conversation and not as an explanation of
> anything other than I don't go back to a simple C
> triad to resolve the song.

So what did it add to the discussion? (You're mistaking this for a casual conversation? :-D)
Lineanus
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
March 31, 2015 06:32PM
JonR wrote
-------------------
>Yes, because it's too much thinking, for no real purpose. ;-)
>Those modal sounds do exist, for as long as the chord lasts - if it lasts long enough.
>More important, in key of C major, Dm is not a "dorian" chord in any real or useful sense. It's "ii in C major", not "I in D dorian."
>IOW, in D dorian mode, Dm sounds like the key chord (of a minor mode), the tonal centre. It doesn't sound like that when it's ii in C major.
>So modal terms are really a distraction from what's actually going on.

>But if thinking that way helps you, no problem...

I've already admitted that I need to be more careful when I reply, to avoid being misunderstood. On the guitar when I move my hand to a new chord position there is a new shape for the notes in the key, or scale if I'm using an altered scale. I renumber the notes to correspond to the numbering of the chord notes, and obviously they are the same notes as the modes of the major scale or altered scale. So, I have a "real purpose", a "useful sense", and it is the opposite of a "distraction from what's actually going on", and thinking that way is quite useful for me! I highly recommend it to any other guitar player.

I didn't know casual remarks are not allow on this forum.
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
April 01, 2015 02:34AM
Lineanus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> JonR wrote
> -------------------
> >Yes, because it's too much thinking, for no real
> purpose. ;-)
> >Those modal sounds do exist, for as long as the
> chord lasts - if it lasts long enough.
> >More important, in key of C major, Dm is not a
> "dorian" chord in any real or useful sense. It's
> "ii in C major", not "I in D dorian."
> >IOW, in D dorian mode, Dm sounds like the key
> chord (of a minor mode), the tonal centre. It
> doesn't sound like that when it's ii in C major.
> >So modal terms are really a distraction from
> what's actually going on.
>
> >But if thinking that way helps you, no problem...
>
>
> I've already admitted that I need to be more
> careful when I reply, to avoid being
> misunderstood.

So do I... ;-)

> On the guitar when I move my hand
> to a new chord position there is a new shape for
> the notes in the key, or scale if I'm using an
> altered scale. I renumber the notes to correspond
> to the numbering of the chord notes, and obviously
> they are the same notes as the modes of the major
> scale or altered scale. So, I have a "real
> purpose", a "useful sense", and it is the opposite
> of a "distraction from what's actually going on",
> and thinking that way is quite useful for me!

If it's useful for you, that's fine. Personally, I find the modal terms superfluous. I also think of chord tones and scale degrees, but position is irrelevant. I'm aware of how the scale notes sound different on each chord, but I don't find mode labels help me make sense of that.
YMMV.

> I didn't know casual remarks are not allow on this
> forum.

My apologies. Casual is fine, obviously, but I tend to assume that a remark like the one you made is intended to illuminate or expand the topic in some what, and I didn't see that yours did. No offence intended.
lee gollin
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 02, 2016 08:06PM
I read all of this thread. No one has mentioned resolution. The concept of tonal gravity. The drama provided by the V chord and the resolution of the leading tone towards the tonic, combined with the strong resemblence of the I chord to the harmonic overtone series of the tonic give it the ability to create great amounts of tension and release. I dont know of another scale in existence that is as effective at this.

It is the scale that best symbolizes the drama of life.
Bob Pearce
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 04:51AM
Except that the major isn't the only scale to have this property. If that were the reason why isn't, say, the Harmonic Major as popular?
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 07:44AM
Bob Pearce Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Except that the major isn't the only scale to have
> this property. If that were the reason why isn't,
> say, the Harmonic Major as popular?

Presumably because the major scale has other properties beside the nature of its tonic and dominant chords.;-)

Harmonic major has an augmented 2nd between it's 6th and 7th degrees. In western convention, this is an "unnatural" or "awkward" melodic step.
Melodically, the b6 has to resolve downwards. The major 6th, equidistant between 5 and 7, can go either way, so is more versatile.
The minor 6th with the root is more dissonant than the major 6th.
The VI chord in harmonic major is an augmented triad - again, much less versatile than the minor vi in the major key.

Harmonic major is an interesting scale in many ways. It just doesn't suit the harmonic practices of European tradition. (That's my guess anyway.)
Bob Pearce
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 07:57AM
JonR Wrote:

>
> Harmonic major has an augmented 2nd between it's
> 6th and 7th degrees. In western convention, this
> is an "unnatural" or "awkward" melodic step.
> Melodically, the b6 has to resolve downwards. The
> major 6th, equidistant between 5 and 7, can go
> either way, so is more versatile.
> The minor 6th with the root is more dissonant than
> the major 6th.
> The VI chord in harmonic major is an augmented
> triad - again, much less versatile than the minor
> vi in the major key.

Which, Jon, ties in nicely to what I believe to be the real reason for the predominance of the Diatonic scale - Maximal evenness.
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 07:59AM
Bob Pearce Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> JonR Wrote:
>
> >
> > Harmonic major has an augmented 2nd between
> it's
> > 6th and 7th degrees. In western convention,
> this
> > is an "unnatural" or "awkward" melodic step.
> > Melodically, the b6 has to resolve downwards.
> The
> > major 6th, equidistant between 5 and 7, can go
> > either way, so is more versatile.
> > The minor 6th with the root is more dissonant
> than
> > the major 6th.
> > The VI chord in harmonic major is an augmented
> > triad - again, much less versatile than the
> minor
> > vi in the major key.
>
> Which, Jon, ties in nicely to what I believe to be
> the real reason for the predominance of the
> Diatonic scale - Maximal evenness.

Sounds entirely reasonable. (The scale and your belief! :-))
lee gollin
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 05:09PM
I once read that Harmonic minor was an attempt to add V to I resolution to a minor sound. I will say this. I am illiterate compared to some of you, but I understand the fruitfulness of the major scale. I have studied the lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization and feel that Major is a mode of lydian. Lydian is a more harmonious scale, based on 5th/4th relationships. The F# is certainly more harmonious than the avoid tone, but without the avoid tone we lose the power of its resolution.I liken the modes to the planets. Major supports life best.

Thanks for reponding to my post. Ill leave this thought.

"All types of tonal organization are musical and useful. Any note can follow any note. Any chord can follow any chord."

my teacher Dennis Sandole

I know, no frequencies or real science here. Just experience.
Bob Pearce
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 05:38PM
lee gollin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I once read that Harmonic minor was an attempt to
> add V to I resolution to a minor sound. I will say
> this. I am illiterate compared to some of you, but
> I understand the fruitfulness of the major scale.
> I have studied the lydian chromatic concept of
> tonal organization and feel that Major is a mode
> of lydian. Lydian is a more harmonious scale,
> based on 5th/4th relationships. The F# is
> certainly more harmonious than the avoid tone, but
> without the avoid tone we lose the power of its
> resolution.I liken the modes to the planets. Major
> supports life best.
>
> Thanks for reponding to my post. Ill leave this
> thought.
>
> "All types of tonal organization are musical and
> useful. Any note can follow any note. Any chord
> can follow any chord."
>
> my teacher Dennis Sandole
>
> I know, no frequencies or real science here. Just
> experience.

I agree with your teacher's quote to an extent. However, Major is not a mode of Lydian. Not even in the LCC,
Bob Pearce
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 03, 2016 05:51PM
Another couple of points, Lee, Major isn't ever a mode. A scale yes, a key yes, a mode no. Do you mean the Ionian? Also in my last reply to you I was talking about the Harmonic Major, not the Harmonic minor.
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 04, 2016 03:23AM
lee gollin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I once read that Harmonic minor was an attempt to
> add V to I resolution to a minor sound.

Correct, pretty much.

We're talking harmonic major, as Bob said, but that scale is really only named after harmonic minor, because it looks like harmonic minor with a raised 3rd. Not because of any harmonic function relative to major, which already works fine harmonically. ;-)

> I will say
> this. I am illiterate compared to some of you, but
> I understand the fruitfulness of the major scale.
> I have studied the lydian chromatic concept of
> tonal organization and feel that Major is a mode
> of lydian.

I see what you mean - and there is some historical justification for that, in that lydian mode was in used for centuries before the major scale (ionian) was employed.

But the LCC is somewhat controversial as I'm sure you know. An interesting idea - a way of breaking out from the major-minor key system - but not a useful way of looking at all kinds of music.

> Lydian is a more harmonious scale,
> based on 5th/4th relationships. The F# is
> certainly more harmonious than the avoid tone, but
> without the avoid tone we lose the power of its
> resolution.

Yes - important point. The perfect 4th is what gives the major scale its crucial instability. The major scale is "perfect" for that reason - it's unstable! That means we can use it to create contrasts between consonance and dissonance, to create harmonic narratives.
The natural acoustic root of the 7 notes is actually the 4th of the scale (the lydian mode of those notes). But we construct music in a major key in such a way as to force the nominal root to be the tonic - which is easy if we avoid the P4 in the harmony. We can then bring in the P4 (in the IV, ii, V7 or vii chords) to create tension, and get things moving.

(This is just my view, btw. Not based on any scientific or music theory authority. The whole notion of "acoustic roots" - while scientifically valid - is somewhat debatable in our equal tempered system. Equal temperament upsets some foundational principles of the LCC, as I understand it.)

> "All types of tonal organization are musical and
> useful. Any note can follow any note. Any chord
> can follow any chord."
>
> my teacher Dennis Sandole

Sure. The only rule is "it must sound good".
But that's where all the other rules come from! Different genres, styles and periods have their own views on what "sounds good", and that's where all the organisational rules come from. So, in some kinds of music it's not true that "any chord can follow any chord" - some moves will sound wrong for that style. They will sound like mistakes.
It's rather like saying, in language, that "any word can follow any word". Yes, not but not all sequences are going to make sense.
Music has to make sense - not in a literal way like language, but according to whatever conventions we're familiar with. If it doesn't, then it will sound like meaningless noise.
That's not to say that clever composers can't come up with new organisational principles that sound meaningless to begin with, before we're able to perceive the organisation behind it.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 01/04/2016 03:28AM by JonR. (view changes)
lee gollin
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 04, 2016 10:33AM
I meant Ionian. What part of illiterate do I need to expand on. I agree about the LCC. It is very useful to George Russell whose compositions are very interesting to me, but really just one of the infinitely many concepts out there.

My feeling about Lydian is that it is the parental mode. Not the most useful perhaps. I look at the circle of 5ths starting on C and organize the first seven tones into a scale that has #F. A very beautiful sounding scale. G ionian is the 5th mode and for me the useful do to the tension it can create and resolution it offers. Both stable and unstable situations can be realized. It reflects the conditions of life in that way. Happiness Sadness,Good Evil,Stable Unstable, Inertia Motion, Day Night.

I only mentioned harmonic minor because Im not very familiar with Harmonic Major.

I think when sounds are organized we tend to sense some type of order. Then we can attach feelings to them pleasant or not.

Evolution is a great way to put it as the major(ionian)scale has had a very successful and continuing existence.

Last thing, it has been used so much that it is utterly predictable and for my tastes needs to be peppered with the chromatic to catch my attention.

Thanks for the responses. I hope I added to this discussion despite my very limited technical prowess. I have been composing and working in music since I was 4. Most of what I know has been brought about through self discovery and experience on my own.

ps I suck at math!
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 05, 2016 08:49PM
lee gollin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I read all of this thread.

Man, you must have been bored :-)


No one has mentioned
> resolution. The concept of tonal gravity.

Having read through your post, I know you'll disagree, but that's got nothing to do with it.

I suppose, we could say that *really* the scale is not a "real" thing in that it's merely a "listing" of the notes of the Key - and THAT is where Tonicity is generated.

So in essence, the Leading Tone resolves to the Tonic not becuase it's the 7th note of the scale, or not because it's a half-step from the Tonic, but because the Tonal System imbues it with that tendency based on the common association of that note with the dominant harmony which itself resolves to the tonic.

And conditioning.


The
> drama provided by the V chord and the resolution
> of the leading tone towards the tonic, combined
> with the strong resemblence of the I chord to the
> harmonic overtone series of the tonic give it the
> ability to create great amounts of tension and
> release. I dont know of another scale in existence
> that is as effective at this.


Oops, here's where it falls apart.

I'll say it again, even though you will likely refuse to accept it: The Overtone Series has nothing to do with it. At all.

I don't want to get into all of the counter arguments because honestly it's like trying to tell someone something they don't want to hear.

>
> It is the scale that best symbolizes the drama of
> life.

Cue new age philosophy...

Whatever makes you happy I suppose.
Jason James Guthrie
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
January 29, 2016 07:16AM
It has to do with the system of organizing music called Tonal Harmony.

Tonal Harmony is a way to organize music based on the relationship of a Tonic Chord and a Dominant Chord,

The Major Scale is has a V Dom7 Chord, perfect for Tonal Harmony.

Modal music is based on any number of pitches relating to a pitch center.
Cr8-tron
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
November 21, 2016 04:06AM
Wow, there's quite a bit of dissonating viewpoints on how to go about answering such a straightforward question (pun intended)! There are so many aspects to consider responding to, that the thought of including them all is too overwhelming. Hence, I'll just touch upon what sticks out to me the most, as for my initial input. I find the arguments, over specifically whether the Ionian mode happens to reflect the overtone series in some indirect way, to be the most captivating ones. Let's list off some of the common theories proposed:

1) The first harmonic of a different note than the fundamental (resulting in the 5th) we invert (resulting in the 4th). Now, with these first three notes (1st, 4th, & 5th), we combine them, along with each of their first two other unique notes that are generated by when the overtone series is additionally based on this "4th" and this "5th".

The problem with this first theory is that there's nothing to suggest we stop short of including the next unique note found in the overtone series (the 3rd) and its inversion (the minor 6th), before combining the notes of the overtone series borne out of THESE new notes (the 1st's overtone series + the 3rd's series + the 4th's series + the 5th's series + the minor 6th's series). Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest we stop short of including the minor 7th overtone, once we have our determined fundamentals. Based on all of this, should not the notes of C7, E7, F7, G7, & Ab7 combine to make a more detailed scale that's just as valid? Anyone with experience will immediately know that this combination of notes is impractical, as for thinking about like a musical scale. Hence, this 1st theory is proven flawed.

2) In Rameau's Treatise on Harmony, a solution is proposed that involves combining the arithmetic (overtone) and harmonic (overtone inversions) series together, resulting in that which the overtone series alone cannot yield, such as the sub-dominant chord, the minor chord quality, etc.

The problem with this theory is that it is never acknowledged, that inverting the intervals of an assumed set of overtone-series notes (4:5:6:7) only yields the notes that were missing from being able to form the melodic minor scale (as opposed to the ones we'd need to form the diatonic). Hence, it would seem Rameau's proposition indirectly suggests we base tonal music around a mode which normally we don't (C, D, E, F, G, Ab, Bb). By the way, if anyone can clarify something that I might've misunderstood in reading Rameau's treatise, I'm completely open to reconsidering all of this.

Despite any of the above points I make, I do still imagine it being a possibility, that the overtone series is definitely the mathematical basis (in some complicated way) for the diatonic scale's nature-reflective existence. One other peculiarity (which I'm not necessarily sure should prove for or against the overtone-series as a basis for the diatonic scale) is the way we are taught to associate the 12TET intervals and/or its major scale intervals with certain just-intonation intervals (respectively, 15:16, 8:9, 5:6, 4:5, 3:4, 5:7, 2:3, 5:8, 3:5, 4:7, 8:15 and/or 8:9, 4:5, 3:4, 2:3, 3:5, 15:16). I have trouble buying this as a default association that our brains would make, considering that there isn't a common integer that every ratio shares for establishing the fundamental in this just-intonation system.
Re: why is the major scale constructed like it is?
November 24, 2017 08:23AM
I had to chime in, even though this is an old thread. I'm working on 2nd edition of my book on music theory (Guitar Theory Handbook) and I addressed this, so here it is for what its worth:

It has been argued that the evolution of culture, not the science of sound chose the Ionian mode as the main scale in Western music. In support of this argument there are scales used by different cultures IE ancient Egyptian scales and modes which bear little resemblance to major scales let alone equal temperament. But it could be argued that some music is maintained more by cultural tradition while other music is free to evolve, and that evolution is more a discovery of what works best than what came before. If it can be said of political paradigms, that some systems evolve by innovation and discovery, while others do not evolve, perhaps it can be said of musical paradigms.

But in support of the argument that the Ionian mode is harmonically/sonically the most stable, here are some points.

Comparing Ionian with other the other Greek modes, we observe they are inversions of each other, so what distinguishes Ionian? I suggest that the relationship of a modal tonic to its other six degrees is important. Phrygian and Locrian have a flat 2 which are dissonant over the modal tonic, so we could understand why these are not the go-to modes. Lydian's #4 has a tritone relationship with the root, generally considered dissonant, so we could understand the elimination of this as the main mode. Mixolydian has fewer vertical conflicts than Ionian, with its less dissonant flat 7, but Mixo introduces asymmetry; we no longer have two major tetrachords; CDEF = GABC. The relationship of the first to second tetrachord is a forth, and the relationship of the second to first tetrachord is a fifth. Ionian also has another important feature; it spawns major triads on the tonic, 4th and 5th degrees. Considering this and the fact that the major triad itself is harmonically strong, there is a case to be made for Ionian as the most harmonically stable mode.

Lydian flat 7 (a mode of melodic minor) emerges before Ionian in the harmonic overtone series, which is why it's also call "the overtone scale", but traditional harmony rarely features this mode. Probably because it lacks the symmetry and contains two triads which are a tritone apart (scary!).

Aeolian has minor triads built on its first, fourth and fifth degrees, reinforcing its "minorness", while it has asymmetrical tetrachords. Dorian has symmetrical tetrachords, but cannot boast similar triad types on the 1, 4 and 5 degrees. With a minor 5 chord, Aeolian's V to I cadence does not resolve well and so it often borrows Ionian's 5 chord - the birth or harmonic minor.

Considering Ionian and Aeolian are respectively the most used modes in traditional harmony, and assuming there is something scientific and psycho-acoustic to this phenomenon, we could guess that the structure we like to hear is based on symmetry; the symmetry of two similar tetrachords, and the symmetry of similar triads on the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees. Ionian has both of these symmetries, while Aeolian lacks the tetrachord symmetry. All other modes have either no such symmetry, or notes which are discordant with the tonic.
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