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Scale question

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(@niliov)
Trusted Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 70
 

Noteboat,

I have a question and if anyone knows the answer it is probably you. You state that the locrian mode was rejected useless which of course is true: I do not know of any piece that effectively makes use of this scale. There is however a scale which resembles the locrian mode with a slight alteration to make it a major scale:

B C D Eb (D#) F G A B (I spelled the scale in B major as to show the difference with B locrian which would have the notes of C major)

I know the scale by the name "B altered" (which has the same notes as C melodic minor) and is used mainly by jazz musicians to play over altered (b9, b13) dominants. There is however a piece by Piazzolla which uses this scale extensively ("Contrabajissimo"). I am wondering if this scale was "invented" by jazz musicians or if it dates back to an earlier time. Seems like something you might know!


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

I'm afraid I can't give you a definitive answer on that one, Niliov... but if I had to guess, I'd say it was invented by jazz musicians.

Just looking at it... B-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B... I'd say it's not an altered Lydian - it kind of looks like Lydian, because if you map out the tones against the root, it's 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7. Since everything is flatted except the fourth, it's got that Lydian flavor... the fourth degree a whole step above the third, and a half step below the fifth.

But it's also got that minor third - so I take a step back and say "hey, that's the Bb major scale with a raised root!" And that makes me think it's probably created. I can try to research it if you'd like.

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(@ldavis04)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 228
Topic starter  

I'm getting it based of the scale degrees of the harmonic minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 8

I think the thing here is that you're using the A natural minor as your starting point for your calculations. The scale degrees of the harmonic minor are based on starting with the major scale (most scales are written out in relation to their major scale). In this case you'd need to start with the A major scale and you'd be set.

You logic is fine. You simply started in the wrong place.

Hope this helps.

Peace

I was using the A natural minor as a starting point for the harmonic minor. Thanks for clearing that up...and thanks to everyone for helping me see the correct structure for this scale....now, about that melodic minor scale...... :lol:

I may grow old, but I'll never grow up.


   
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(@niliov)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 70
 

Thanks Noteboat!

I think it was invented by jazz musicians as well but there was that odd chance there was a more interesting story to be told! I look at that scale in this way:

A piece in C melodic minor would have F7 as IV and you'd play C melodic minor over this chord to convey the mixolydian #11 sound. And since B7(b9b13) is the exact tritone opposite of this scale they figured it would fit B7 alt as well.


   
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(@fretsource)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 973
 

Yes, that's right, historically it did come from the natural minor, which came from the aeolian mode.

Not quite...

Agreed - not quite.
My rationale for tracing the natural minor back to the aeolian mode of Glareanus was that his was the earliest (that I know of) attempt to give that interval series a proper name and fixed form. NoteBoat's school taught that the minor and major scales had previously emerged from the secular music of medieval minstrels. But did they have names? (the scales - not the minstrels). Were they thought of as actual scales in their own right with fixed forms? Or were the minstrels just sometimes altering modes to produce melodies, the notes of which sometimes happened to correspond to modern major and minor scales.

My school taught something similar, but again, 'not quite'.
We were taught that while some secular music (pre Glareanus) could be analysed in terms of modern major and minor scales, this was purely as a result of:
1. Expansion of the pentatonic scales (Here in Scotland we have a very strong pentatonic tradition).
2. The gradual application of 'musica ficta', to modal music, i.e., chromatically altering notes to avoid harmonic dissonances or improve melodic shape. For example adding a flat to the note B of an original dorian mode song (D-D), immediately converted it to what we now call D minor. Similarly, adding a flat to the note B of an original lydian melody (F-F) converted it to what is now called F major.

The essential difference between NoteBoat's position and mine is that I maintain that those were not minor or major scales in the modern sense. They were chromatically altered modes (or expanded pentatonics), that sometimes happened to coincide with our modern major and minor scales. There was no concept of them as being true scales in their own right, and certainly no concept of them functioning as transposable diatonic scales within a tonal framework, (a defining characteristic of our modern major and minor scales).

Glareanus' timely arrival to take the matter in hand, and re-classify, expand and consolidate the church modes, while taking into account modern secular practices, gave name and form to those previously unnamed and somewhat vaguely expanded pentatonics and chromatically altered modes as the new and improved 'ionian and aeolian modes'.

Further chromatic alteration of the modes, led to an increased awareness and embracing of the concept of tonality, which, with its preference for certain interval arrangements, saw the decline of the increasingly unsuitable traditional church modes and emergence of the (now fully transposable) ionian and aeolian modes, reborn, as the modern major and (with some further modification) minor scales.


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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I got to the library this morning to do a bit of research on the topic...

From Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians:

In the minor mode of tonal music, the dominant lies a 5th above the tonic, or principal scale degree, and the sixth degree is characteristically a semitone above the dominant; for this reason scholars in the last three centuries have tended to think of the minor mode of tonal music as a lineal descendent of Glarean's Aeolian scale. In fact the minor tonalities of tonal music are of herterogenous origins.

So that supports the way I was taught, that the natural minor scale came from a source outside of Glareanus' modes. But later on in the same entry:

...the old D modes (Dorian and Hypodorian) with their cantus mollis (one-flat) and cantus fictus (two-flat) forms on g and c respectively, are historically more nearly in the direct line of ancestry of the minor tonalities than Glarean's Aeolian-Hypoaeolian group and the Italian and French imitators.

And that supports Fretsource's teachers - that the minor scale has modal origins.

The major scale is more clear-cut, especially with recent archeological discoveries. Part of the problem we have in music history is that there's a big gap - between roughly 600AD and 900AD, there's absolutely nothing... no theory texts, no written music, nada. So when we find an early piece that has a major tonality (like some of Hildegard von Bingen's music from the 1200s), it's hard to say it's Ionian mode - since Glareanus didn't show up for another 300 years. It's also hard to say it's an alteration of the Lydian or Mixolydian mode, since we have no earlier examples of either mode with alterations - we simply don't know what the source is.

So we guess. And music historians for the most part have taken a 'common sense' approach, stating that music must have gotten more complex as it evolved. By that logic, the diatonic scales came from the hexatonic modal pieces, which surely must have evolved from pentatonic scales (which are found in nearly every culture on earth). That same logic has polyphony growing out of two-voice organum in the past 1000 years, and only monophonic melodies preceeding it.

But recent discoveries are upending that line of thought. Clay tablets discovered in Syria in the 1950s were translated while I was still in college in the 70s - the result is the world's oldest known music (about 4000 years old), which uses both a major scale and two-part harmony!

Another discovery, a bone flute dating to Neanderthal times - 43,000 years ago, was initiially used to support the 'pentatonic came first' line of thought. Because only a fragment of the flute survives, we don't know the whole scale used... but the most recent analyses show the existing notes are a pretty close match to Eb, F, G, and Ab. That's not a pentatonic fragment - it's the start of the Eb major scale! (A few scholars have concluded that the holes in the bone are simply the result of animal teeth, and that it's not a flute at all - but if it is a flute, the pentatonic origins of music start looking pretty shaky, IMO.)

So my guess is that folk music has used the major scale as a tonal system as far back as we can reach. But folk music wasn't considered important by the early historians - they focused their efforts on the weighty topics of religious music. And that makes sense, because for over a thousand years the only literate folk were religious figures. But I'm guessing the next few centuries may bring about more discoveries of early instruments, and we might find that the whole modal system was a momentary diversion from major/minor tonality.

And we'll realize that everything old really is new again :)

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