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Thread: Why Is C Major Called A "Diatonic" Scale"? What Does "Diatonic" Mean?

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    Default Why Is C Major Called A "Diatonic" Scale"? What Does "Diatonic" Mean?

    Why Is C Major Called A "Diatonic" Scale"? What Does "Diatonic" Mean?

    Any "takers?" Heh heh....

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Diatonic doesn't mean "two tonics" - the Greek preposition "dia" is not the prefix "di-" has nothing to do with the number two. I really hope you don't choose to double down on this basic error.

    I also hope you're aware that all of the white-key scales, including Lydian, are called diatonic.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    The term diatonic comes from Ancient Greek theory, where it designates one of three standard genera of tetrachords. Tetrachords are four note series dividing the interval of a perfect fourth. The three standard genera were diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic. Diatonic tetrachords comprise two tones and a semitone. Chromatic tetrachords comprise a minor third and two semitones. Enharmonic tetrachords comprise a major third and two quarter tones. The Greeks built modes by stacking tetrachords. For example, if one stacks the tetrachord B-C-D-E on top of the tetrachord E-F-G-A, one has the complete set of pitches to define a mode. This is a diatonic mode because both tetrachords are diatonic.

    When carried over into modern theory, the term diatonic indicates any mode or scale of seven notes comprising two diatonic tetrachords. This includes major and natural minor scales and all the standard Greek-named modes. C major is among this group and so is a diatonic scale.

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    • Quote Originally Posted by isorhythm View Post
      Diatonic doesn't mean "two tonics" - the Greek preposition "dia" is not the prefix "di-" has nothing to do with the number two. I really hope you don't choose to double down on this basic error.

      I also hope you're aware that all of the white-key scales, including Lydian, are called diatonic.
    • Thank you, BabyGiraffe, I'll take that into consideration.
    • The English word diatonic is ultimately from the Greek διατονικός (diatonikós), itself from διάτονος (diátonos), which may mean (as OEDclaims) "through the tones" (taking τόνος, tónos, to mean interval of a tone), or perhaps stretched out (as recorded in Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon). See also Barsky (Chromaticism, Barsky, Vladimir, Routledge, 1996, p. 2): "There are two possible ways of translating the Greek term 'diatonic': (1) 'running through tones', i.e. through the whole tones; or (2) a 'tensed' tetrachord filled up with the widest intervals". The second interpretation would be justified by consideration of the pitches in the diatonic tetrachord, which are more equally distributed ("stretched out") than in the chromatic and enharmonic tetrachords, and are also the result of tighter stretching of the two variable strings. It is perhaps also sounder on linguistic morphological grounds. (See also Merriam-Webster Online.)
    • A completely separate explanation of the origins of the term diatonic appeals to the generation of the diatonic scale from "two tones": "Because the musical scale is based entirely on octaves and fifths, that is, two notes, it is called the 'diatonic scale' " (Phillips, Stephen, "Pythagorean aspects of music", in Music and Psyche, Vol. 3, available also online. But this ignores the fact that it is the element di- that means "two", not the element dia-, which has "through" among its meanings (see Liddell and Scott). There is a Greek term δίτονος (dítonos), which is applied to an interval equivalent to two tones. It yields the English words ditone and ditonic (see Pythagorean comma), but it is quite distinct from διάτονος.
    • Yet another derivation assumes the sense "through the tones" for διάτονος, but interprets tone as meaning individual note of the scale: "The word diatonic means 'through the tones' (i.e., through the tones of the key)" (Gehrkens, 1914, see below; see also the Prout citation, at the same location). This is not in accord with any accepted Greek meaning, and in Greek theory it would fail to exclude the other tetrachords.
    • The fact that τόνος itself has at least four distinct meanings in Greek theory of music contributes to the uncertainty of the exact meaning and derivation of διατονικός, even among ancient writers. (See Solon Michaelides, The Music of Ancient Greece: An Encyclopaedia (London; Faber and Faber, 1978), pp. 335–40: "Tonos".
    • Τόνος may refer to a pitch, an interval, a "key" or register of the voice, or a mode.) For more information, especially concerning the various exact tunings of the diatonic tetrachord, see Diatonic genus.


    Hmm, two tones, two tetrachords, two semitones, two keys...
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-29-2019 at 11:22.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    The Greek etymology is irrelevant, what matter in regards to western music theory is the definition given to it over the past few hundred years which is the scale <013568A> pattern of the white keys of the piano.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    [LIST][*]

    Hmm, two tones, two tetrachords, two semitones, two keys...
    Why did you end with the above? None of these readings is justified by what you quoted. Instead of just admitting that isorhythm and BabyGiraffe are right — "two" has nothing to do with it — you chose to obfuscate.

    Edit: Oh, I see! You made a mistake in another thread … :

    "Diatonic" means "two tonics." The C major scale is "diatonic" because it has C and F as strong tonics."

    … and you're trying to cover it up.

    So the substance of your elaborate post is that the term diatonic as applied to C major derives from Greek tetrachord theory, a fact you were told in the other thread and above in #3.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jul-29-2019 at 14:59.

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    I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to BabyGiraffe for posting an edited-out statement of mine. Thanks a lot, dude!

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Why did you end with the above? None of these readings is justified by what you quoted. Instead of just admitting that isorhythm and BabyGiraffe are right — "two" has nothing to do with it — you chose to obfuscate.
    If you read carefully, there is no definite meaning of the Greek root. It could mean "two," referring to fifths and octaves.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    If you read carefully, there is no definite meaning of the Greek root. It could mean "two," referring to fifths and octaves.
    It doesn't mean two. And this is beside the point. The term diatonic comes directly from Greek tetrachord theory where it is used in opposition to chromatic. We use it the same way. There is no mystery here. It certainly has nothing to do with your half-baked theory.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    If you read carefully, there is no definite meaning of the Greek root. It could mean "two," referring to fifths and octaves.
    It couldn't. It has a meaning unrelated to the number two and comes up in quite a few Greek-derived words. Think dialectic, dialogue, diagnosis, dialysis....

    What I still don't understand is where you thought you were going with this. Did you think diatonic only referred to the Ionian (eg C major) scale?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Diatonic is something one takes to cure diarrhea. Of the verbal sort, in the case of this thread.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Diatonic is something one takes to cure diarrhea. Of the verbal sort, in the case of this thread.
    Another good example of a dia- word.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Diatonic is something one takes to cure diarrhea. Of the verbal sort, in the case of this thread.
    It is surely diabolical

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    It could mean "dirreah," referring to EdwardBast and Woodduck.

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    • The diatonic scale is obtained from a chain of six successive fifths. For instance, the seven natural pitches that form the C-major scale can be obtained from a chain of fifths starting from F (F—C—G—D—A—E—B).

    True or false?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-29-2019 at 16:57.

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