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curious about origin of exotic scales

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Estimable Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 133
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How or why did exotic 'specific' scales originally come about? Why is a national scale so site/geographically specific? Is it just because father taught son "It goes like this."???

Portamento - The ability to move from a wrong note to the right one without anyone noticing the original mistake.
Harmonics - The buzzing sound that string instruments make.
Impromptu - A carefully worked out composition.

Reputable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 358

I'm going out on a real far limb here 'cause I'm only guessing. But I'd say it probably had to do with the instruments that were popular in specific areas as well as the common types of music that became popular in certain area.

That's my guess anyway. :?

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

It depends on which scale you're talking about. Some have names that are accurate descriptions. The Byzantine scale, for example... the Byzantine churches developed their own chants, similar to the Gregorian chants of the Catholic church. What we call the Byzantine scale is a close approximation to the scale their chants were based on around 1800 or so when the name was first applied.

Some have names that are not accurate descriptions, but seemed logical. The "Gypsy" scale is actually Arabic - but the use of the scale was brought to Europe by nomadic gypsies. The Hungarian gyspies - the ones that stayed put instead of roaming around - had their own scale.

Some have names that try to be specific, but fail miserably. I first encountered Indian music through a rock guitar book in the 70s. The book showed the 'raga' scale... but there are lots and lots of raga scales. The author had probably only heard one, and said 'oh, this is what they base Indian music on'.

Within raga music, you've actually got other issues with names. They're all based on the same philosophical system, but India is a big place - ask a musician trained in northern India to play a specific raga, and ask the same thing of a musician trained in southern India - you get two different results. The raga names come from the Vedic philosophy, which is common to both parts of the country, but the names are applied to different sounds (the raga scales I show in my book are from the Southern system, which has an older traceable history... I only show 13 of the ragas - the Southern system has 72 - because their system is microtonal, so most aren't playable on guitar)

Sometimes scales are created, rather than traditional. We start using sharps and flats, we call them chromatics... then logically, the scale containing all of them was called the chromatic scale.

Some scales get renamed to make more sense. The Octatonic scale - Rimsky-Korsakov claimed to have discovered that one. About 40 years ago, a theorist named Arthur Berger renamed it the diminished scale, and that name has superceded the use of the earlier one.

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