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What is the definite meaning of Diatonic


(@lee-n)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 142
Topic starter  

Who can help me out with the correct definition of Diatonic.

I have never really felt 100% comfortable that I truly know what it means and I get the feeling the term sometimes get's misused.

My understanding has always been something along the lines of a seven note scale consisting of five whole steps and two half steps but I don't feel confident in that explanation as Iv'e seen too many articles etc that will contradict this.

Lee


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(@guitarteacher)
Eminent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 46
 

Diatonic means, simply, of the key. If a piece adheres to its seven note scale without adding any other notes, it is considered diatonic (and, quite possibly, boring).

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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

It's from the Greek words dia (through, as in diameter - through the circle) and tonos (tones).

Its use in music is just slightly fuzzy, because the word is much older than our chromatic scale. It originally meant playing through all the tones - but 'all the tones' then were just the letter names.

Many music dictionaries define a diatonic scale as one that uses only half steps and whole steps... but that means the harmonic minor scale isn't diatonic (and many of those same books say minor scales are diatonic)

My own definition is that a diatonic scale is one that uses every letter name once, and only once - a seven-tone scale with seven different letters. That allows music to be written without accidentals, even if the resulting key signature is non-standard.

But my definition is broader than that of many music teachers, since it allows for a space as large as a doubly-augmented whole step (for example, between Gb and A#).

So the consensus is that a scale must use every letter name, and each letter only once to be diatonic; if the resulting scale is then composed of only half and whole steps, the result is definately diatonic... and if some of the intervals are larger, it's considered diatonic by some.

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(@lee-n)
Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 142
Topic starter  

Guitarteacher: Thanks for the reply, your interpretation is pretty much how I have always considered it but this bit by Tom is probably what has always made me wonder because there is a slight contradiction..

Many music dictionaries define a diatonic scale as one that uses only half steps and whole steps... but that means the harmonic minor scale isn't diatonic (and many of those same books say minor scales are diatonic)

if the resulting scale is then composed of only half and whole steps, the result is definately diatonic... and if some of the intervals are larger, it's considered diatonic by some.

So I guess the meaning has changed a bit over time and that's why you see slightly varied interpretations?

Thanks guys.

Lee


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(@kingpatzer)
Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

It's not so much that it changed over time, as that music changed, and the word came along for the ride.

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