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Scales and Western Music

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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The Western musical tradition that developed in Europe after the middle ages is based on major and minor scales, but there are other scales that are a part of this tradition. In the chromatic scale, every interval is a half-step. This scale gives all the sharp, flat, and natural notes commonly used in all Western music. It is also the twelve-tone scale used by twentieth-century composers to create their atonal music. Young instrumentalists are encouraged to practice playing the chromatic scale in order to ensure that they know the fingerings for all the notes. Listen to a chromatic scale.

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Figure 4.47 Chromatic Scale
The chromatic scale includes all the pitches normally found in Western music. Note that, because of enharmonic spelling, many of these pitches could be written in a different way (for example, using flats instead of sharps). 

In a whole tone scale, every interval is a whole step. In both the chromatic and the whole tone scales, all the intervals are the same. This results in scales that have no tonal center; no note feels more or less important than the others. Because of this, most traditional and popular Western music uses major or minor scales rather than the chromatic or whole tone scales. But composers who don't want their music to have a tonal center (for example, many composers of "modern classical" music) often use these scales. Listen to a whole tone scale.

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Figure 4.48 A Whole Tone Scale
Because all the intervals are the same, it doesn't matter much where you begin a chromatic or whole tone scale. For example, this scale would contain the same notes whether you start it on C or E. 

Exercise 4.23:

There is basically only one chromatic scale; you can start it on any note, but the pitches will end up being the same as the pitches in any other chromatic scale. There are basically two possible whole tone scales. Beginning on a b, write a whole tone scale that uses a different pitches than the one in the above Figure 4.48. If you need staff paper, you can download this PDF file.

Exercise 4.24:

Now write a whole tone scale beginning on a flat. Is this scale essentially the same as the one in Figure 4.73 or the one in Figure 4.48 ?