~ DIATONIC ~

~ the diatonic realm ~

~ the organic source ~

~ 7 pitch key center ~

~ the diatonic scale ~

~ the 7 pitches ~

~ the 7 pitches ~

~ the 7 pitches ~

~ the other 5 pitches ~

~ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ~

~ I ii iii IV V vi vii VIII~

~ rote learning ~

in a nutshell
the diatonic realm
color tones
non diatonic color tones
into polytonality

 

the diatonic rule
crafting melodies
learning by ear
original architecture
borrowing pitches
the modes within
blues melodies
improv
telling stories
diatonic cycles

'the ancient group of pitches that has created our melodies and conceptually defines all music theories of today ...'

.

 

In a nutshell ~ the diatonic realm. Big letters at the top surely denote potential importance in the scheme of understanding music theory ideas. Whole tamale level? The basis of understanding it all? Yep, could be for some. For as far back as we might ever go in our music histories, the term 'diatonic' and the myths and theories that surround its seven pitches have shaped our music. For our discussions here, we've two aspects to consider. First is that the 'diatonic scale' is the select group of pitches pitches for creating our Americana melodies. For it is our relative major / minor scale. Our second consideration most often becomes a simple theory question that helps define our whole analytical process; are the pitches under scrutiny 'diatonic' to the key center of the song or music whose sounds and theories we wish to untangle?

the top

groups of pitches

Americana melodies

In examining just a melody's pitches? Easy for the most part but with chords and their relationship to the melodies they often support, diatonic is our backstop. For those looking to evolve your improvs from soloing 'over' to 'through' the changes, thus stylistically advancing towards a more jazz direction, learn this concept of diatonic here now and forever better sort and understand your melody / chord pitch relationships.

backstop

What we get. This is one part of what we theorists do. For when we hear something we dig, we just intuitively want to understand what's in this music and what its magic is. Once we get to the source of it we can then recreate it and evolve the coolness in our own art. The idea of 'diatonic' is the basis. That most of our Americana music is diatonic makes our work a breeze. And when we bump into the 'blues hue' or head towards the jazzier side of our styles spectrum, sourcing all from the diatonic perspective at least gives a real chance to figure out what's going on, at least in theory :) Cool?

 

Untangling the pitches. This is one part of what we theorists do. For when we hear something we dig, we just intuitively want to understand what's in this music and what its magic is. Once we get to the source of it we can then recreate it and evolve the coolness in our own art. The idea of 'diatonic' is the basis. That most of our Americana music is diatonic makes our work a breeze. And when we bump into the 'blues hue' or head towards the jazzier side of our styles spectrum, sourcing all from the diatonic perspective at least gives a real chance to figure out what's going on, at least in theory :) Cool?

 

Through the tones. So in understanding this essential term and concept we can define its two parts. So if this is 'all Greek' to ya, no worries, for that's the language where this word comes to us from.

~ D I A T O N I C ~

'Dia' = through; is also part of the term diameter as in describing a line through middle of a circle. The line of text 'tritone interval' in the picture is the diameter of this circle of fifths depiction.

'Tonic' = tones or pitches; the notes of our scales, arpeggios and chords etc.

'Diatonic' = 'through the tones.'

circle of 5th's

HBDC

Early origins. In getting to the origins of this diatonic scale we bump right into its myth for we need to use the wayback machine to find its sources. And most anytime we use the wayback there's going to be some wiggle as to just what is what. Regardless, for we are theorists and music history wannabees. So the artist in us often loves the myth that can surround the historical human events that very often inspire and energize to life the fantastical art we create. That this has been the case for untold generations is surely proof enough.

the wayback

the artist

With 'diatonic' we can go back to when we as regular folks hung out in caves and the steady gig, both matinees and evening shows, was at the communal camp fire. Most cats were probably drummers ... imagine that :) and of course everybody danced, well probably (see, there's that wayback wiggle). Recently, a fragment of a bone flute was found in one such cave over in the central part of the European continent. When rebuilt to imagined proportions using today's no-wiggle computer 3d printing wizardry, and then placed in the hands of the area woodwind monsters, guess what scale pitches it plays? Hint, begins with a 'd' ...

cave bear bone flute

woodwinds

monster

So, to believe or not to believe this possible myth is each our own prerogative. I believe of course for I love the myths. For in believing I thus create a better potential to bring forth the ancient melodies, the ones that today might resonate with and bring together in love all our humankind. And in doing so, help better our world day to day through the music we each bring to life. And just imagine the dance moves these ancient melodies might provoke :) And yet it's all a myth ... imagine that.

ancient melodies

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

wiki ~ Albert Einstein

The diatonic scale. In examining the enduring melodies of our Americana music over the last few centuries, from whatever source, we consistently find the seven pitches of the relative major / minor group and their modes as their basis. No surprise that we theorists also identify this group as the diatonic scale. And beyond our Americana, this grouping has been the core for creating melodies as far back as musicologists have yet been able to venture; in sound recordings, written historical records, books and instruments discovered in archeological adventures.

Americana melodies

relative major / minor

the modes

Diatonic pitches for song in C major. In our modern times of today, the idea of 'diatonic' creates our key centers. For example, in the key of C major, these seven unique pitches are termed its diatonic pitches. Example 1.

diatonic scale formula

.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2

C major diatonic scale

C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C

Diatonic pitches for song in A minor. Since C major has a relative minor, are these pitches the same diatonic pitches of A natural minor? Example 2.

relative major / minor

diatonic scale formula

.
1
1/2
1
1
1/2
1
1

A minor diatonic scale

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A

So the exact same pitches create C major and A minor? Yep. They form our core diatonic, relative major and minor pairing. And combined is a whole key center? Yep. And 12 of these makes the whole tamale? Ex. 3.

the whole tamale
diatonic C major scale
C
.
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
.
B
C
diatonic A minor scale
A
.
B
C
.
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A

Diatonic flip side / non diatonic pitches. Well we used seven pitches to make our diatonic relative groups. As we've just the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, that leaves five pitches. Can we deduce that these five are then non-diatonic? Yes amigo mon ami, that is the case. Examine the non-diatonic pitches for C major. Ex. 4.

numerical scale degrees
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
b5
5
#5
6
b7
7
8
diatonic C major scale
C
.
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
.
B
C
non-diatonic pitches
.
Db
.
Eb
.
.
Gb
.
Ab
.
Bb
.
.
~ super theory game changer ~

Cool? Very straightforward. So a pitch is either diatonic or not diatonic to a given key center? Exactly. This is the bottom line basis of how we sort the pitches. Any given pitch in any given spot in music is either one of the seven pitches of a key center or not. If it is it's diatonic. If not, it's non-diatonic and we theorists simply want to know from whence it came. And in that searching is its magic often revealed. As simple as that? Yep, allowing that we know the pitches of each key center and can aurally sense the non-diatonic sounds when they occur.

This is why C major / A minor are our main keys for learning; no sharps or flats added to their pitches, just straight white keys on the piano. For if any accidental pops up in the music it kind of jumps right out. And the same theory applies to all of our paired 12 relative major / minor keys? Absolutely, 'one ring to rule them all.' Example 4a.

music notation

And these other five, non-diatonic pitches are ... ? Well, sorry to say there's at least a half dozen or more things they can be, all depending on where we find them in the music. Sometimes they're just a passing tone between diatonic tones of a key center. Sometimes a blue note. Sometimes the root or color tone of a non-diatonic chord used to take the music to a new key center, which itself has its own set of seven diatonic pitches. On and on? Yep, pretty much. Does it matter?

passing tone
blue note
pivot chord
color tone

Not really, as long as we theorists have a way to untangle and decipher the pitches, we can unlock their magic and understand the relationships. Thus empowered we have the means to create the magic whenever, wherever and whatever we may choose. Isn't this a main reason for understanding music theory in the first place? Sure is :)

Thinking diatonically, all defined by key center. What creates these diatonic boundaries ? A key center. And a key center is? A select group of pitches that follows our ancient diatonic scale interval formula. Today, and for the last thousand years or so, this group has become known to us as the Ionian mode (major) and Aeolian mode (minor) which are our relative major / natural minor scale group of pitches.

modes
relatives

From this diatonic scale we create the largest and most inclusive perspective of our music theory. Why? Well they sound good and folks dig them and the music they create gets folks up to dance. Watch the dancers next time, you can and see how many of them are smiling and smiling = good we're having some fun :) Most of our songs, including the 'oldies' from the past millennia, are written and centered in these pitches.

the dancers
an 'oldie'

Quick review. The term diatonic, 'through the tones', is simply the way we define pitches in our tonally key centered musics. We pick one pitch to be our 'key' and build a seven pitch diatonic major or minor scale based on an ancient formula of whole steps and half steps. These pitches and only these pitches, we term to be 'diatonic' to that key center. The remaining five are non-diatonic.

Diatonic balances. S

'Tonic' = tones or pitches; the notes of our scales, arpeggios and chords etc.

'Diatonic' = 'through the tones.'

major / minor
modes

tetrachords

???

~ super theory game changer ~

The 'diatonic 3 and 3.' If this is a first click for you into the text then a hearty welcome. For in the following wee bit of basic theory we illuminate what has been a game changer idea for many; "I never realized that ... wow." So the game changer here is basically that in any one of our 12 key centers we get all the pitches needed to create a perfectly complete One / Four / Five chord progression of triads for both major and minor flavored songs. Ya mean the One / Four / Five chords of a gillion cool songs? Yep. Already cool with this bit of theory ? Nice, but if not I'm sure glad to be the one to hip you to these changes. Click back or to the start / top / da capo of this discussion or just keep reading on to more diatonic harmonic theory glory.

key centers
major ~ minor
One / Four / Five
the changes

Among the most essentials of our music theory is understanding and truly believing that in any given key center, we get a One / Four / Five chord progression for both the major and minor tonalities for writing songs. As chord motion to Four and then on to Five, resolving to One is our tops all time most common of our Americana chord progressions, simply good sense to know of this theory first and rote learn it now if need be.

motion to Four
chord progressions
cadential motions
Americana
rote learning

In the relative key centers of G major / E natural minor, examine six of the possible seven diatonic triads. Ex. 5.

relative keys
six of seven ... ?

Look familiar? Cool. Most 'G, C, D' songs in 'G' major that get beyond the three chords and the truth usually mix in a minor or two, usually E minor or A minor. Though to note; B minor, ( in open G tuning ) is the opening chord for the vocal entrance in the folk rock classic song "Wild Horses" composed by the Rolling Stones. Folk, rock, some blues, country, bluegrass into pop and beyond towards jazz all follow this basic scheme of diatonically generated triads. Some blues? Towards jazz? For blues and jazz we generally need the triad plus a 7th and then beyond.

musical styles
three chords and the truth
open G tuning
wiki ~ "Wild Horses"
three chords ~ 12 bar blues

Diatonic triads. The vast majority of American music is diatonic and the diatonic triads are the basis of the chords or harmony of a song. We often ask, 'what key center is that triad diatonic to?' This helps us understand the theory as we've a key center created by a set of pitches to work from and lean against.

Diatonic chords / three and three. As our diatonic scale evolved in its tuning over the millennia, its ability to also create chords to support its melodies became manifest. With the arrival of an equal temper tuned 'piano forte' near the dawn of the 18th century, all was in place for diatonic harmony to continue to evolve in two essentials ways. First, composers now had all 12 pitches of the chromatic group equally available as both diatonic major or minor key centers as well as any color tone within any combinations of pitches.

equal temper
12 pitches
color tones

Second, in its Euro home, there's the span of 150 to 200 years or so from the more diatonic 'inside' to outside.' Here in our Americana we rocketed to the linear 'free' in about half that time, 80 years or so. That old time radio used to do some amazing things in getting the music out there and get folks excited, probably still does :)

evolution of harmony
Euro
inside / outside
Americana
the radio

So the basis of the theory of diatonic harmony is created by building a three note triad on each of the seven pitches in the scale group. In the following chart we evolve scale to arpeggio and into the three note chords we term triads. Example 5.

scale ~ arpeggio ~ chord
triads
scale numerical degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale pitches
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Arpeggio numerical degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio pitches
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
C
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
triads
CEG
DFA
EGB
FAC
GBD
ACE
BDF
CEG

Well ain't that a beautiful thing. So in a diatonic world we only use the pitches of our diatonic scale to create our diatonic harmony. Yes amigo mon ami, that is indeed the case and has been for a long four hundred years or so. Further on back if you're a lute player.

the lute

This now combined diatonic resource; a scale and its chords, is the musical basis for children's songs, folk, country, a lot of rock and pop and jazz. Everything but the blues? Yep, pretty much. Example 5a.

musical styles
Roman numerals

Run out of frets? So did I. Much easier on the piano. Is this why we oftentimes hear how the theory is perhaps easier to understand on a keyboard that guitar? Could very well be. There are lots of ways to slice and dice these chordal critters to suit our musical needs. We could revoice them to stay in localized position with different string groups. Maybe find ways to use more open strings or both. Let's give this another try in G major / E minor Example 5b.

voicings
localized position
open strings

Look familiar from just above in the discussion? Way better chord shapes to feed this bulldog.

Triads of the natural minor tonality. The following chart simply runs the same theory through the pitches of the relative, natural minor group. Exact same pitches now creating the minor tonal environment built upon the root pitch A, creating the relative natural minor scale and spelling out its seven diatonic triads. Same pitches as just used in the C major chart above, we're just starting from a different root. Using just open chords. Example 6.

scale numerical degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale pitches
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
Arpeggio numerical degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio pitches
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
triads
ACE
BDF
CEG
DFA
EGB
FAC
GBD
ACE

Easy enough yes? So ... same pitches reworked to create new musical settings. Any other ways to work and configure these same exact pitches? Of course for in theory we can do just about anything n'est-ce pas?

Adding the 7th to diatonic chords. As things tend to go, once we move from the folk sounds towards the blues we start to add 7th's to our triads / chords. Once added, our Five chord now becomes V7, with its two pitch tritone. The diatonic triad built on Seven evolves from the diminished triad into a 'half diminished' / -7b5. And as we move further into the pop and jazz styles we'll find more color tones added to our chords as well. For in adding the 7th to a triad we enable the theory of a chord's 'type' to enter the discussions. So a true stylistic evolution simply by adding a 7th to each triad.

two pitch tritone
diminished evolutions
style evolutions

Author's note. If the only thing discovered and mastered from working here in Essentials is the ability to spell any chord, I've earned your price of admission. For this is a skill that can apply to every aspect of creating music and help in getting our ideas across to others.

spelling chords

Here's a chart for spelling the 7th chords in C major. Swap out these pitches with any of the other diatonic 11 major scales to spell the chords in that key. Same chart works for diatonic minor too. Imagine that :)

scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
arpeggio # degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
C
chord # / quality
Imaj7
ii-7
iii-7
IVmaj7
V7
vi-7
vii-7
VIII
diatonic 7th chords
CEGB
DFAC
EGBD
FACE
GBDF
ACEG
BDFA
CEGB

Surely not the best voice leading but the softer quality of the 7th chords versus the triads is still in evidence. So, have some 7th's in your chords in making your musics? For those looking for their next 'new' this 'adding the 7th' just might be a way forward.

voice leading
blues chords
jazz chords

Review, a lot of resource. So it turns out that knowing a bit of the theory surely expands the possibilities of the same grouping of seven pitches. And this pairing creates most of our Americana musics? Melodies? Yep. Chords? Yep, the One / Four and Five chords for both major and minor come from this diatonic group of pitches. Really?

We get the One / Four and Five chords major and minor from the seven pitches of the diatonic scale? Yep. Aren't these the core chords that harmonize the majority of our songs throughout all of our styles? Three chords and the truth? Absolutely. And the blues? Well, the blues as the name implies is a horse of a different color ... as they've said a time or two in old time Kansas :)

"The music that I deal with has elements of bebop to ballad, swing to sweet, blues to boogie, and pop to rock," Mr. Arthur Blythe told the musician and oral historian Ben Sidran in 1986. "If I have the ability to do that, I should be able to do whatever I want to do in those areas - because I am dealing with the tradition, and my culture, and my heritage."

wiki ~ Arthur Blythe
Footnotes:
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.