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Dividing the Octave, More or Less

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Any scale will list a certain number of notes within an octave. For major and minor scales, there are seven notes; for pentatonic, five; for a chromatic scale, twelve. Although some divisions are more common than others, any division can be imagined, and many are used in different musical traditions around the world. For example, the classical music of India recognizes twenty-two different possible pitches within an octave; each raga uses five, six, or seven of these possible pitches. (Please see Indian Classical Music: Tuning and Ragas for more on this.) And there are some traditions in Africa that use six or eight notes within an octave. Listen to one possible eight-tone, or octatonic scale.

Figure 4.52 An Octatonic Scale

Many Non-Western traditions, besides using different scales, also use different tuning systems; the intervals in the scales may involve quarter tones (a half of a half step), for example, or other intervals we don't use. Even trying to write them in common notation can be a bit misleading.

Microtones are intervals smaller than a half step. Besides being necessary to describe the scales and tuning systems of many Non-Western traditions, they have also been used in modern Western classical music, and are also used in African-American traditions such as jazz and blues. As of this writing, the Huygens-Fokker Foundation was a good place to start looking for information on microtonal music.