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Thread: Difference between scale an key?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post

    Trick question: Are key signatures diatonic?
    Since you know that the question is a misuse of terms - akin to "Are armadillos fruits or vegetables?" - what's your point? To ferret out people who are musically ignorant?

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Trick question: Are key signatures diatonic?

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Since you know that the question is a misuse of terms - akin to "Are armadillos fruits or vegetables?" - what's your point? To ferret out people who are musically ignorant?
    No, I guess in this case it's to ferret out my own ignorance.
    I thought it was obvious that key signatures are diatonic in nature, because they indicate diatonic scales. Are they not?
    Are they chromatic? Is this a trick question?

    I thought that the key signature defines the diatonic scale that a piece of music uses without the need for accidentals.

    How about yourself? Are you an armadillo or a vegetable?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-29-2020 at 21:52.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I guess I'm more of an armadillo...

    That aside, it does seem an odd question, since a key signature indicates only a basic key that music is written in, and sometimes hardly even that. A piece of music in any key can be as diatonic or chromatic as you please. We can't assume that because we have a key signature of one sharp, we're going to hear only the notes of a diatonic G major or E minor scale. All we can be sure of is that F will be sharped unless it's notated otherwise. Key signatures don't predict diatonicism or chromaticism, and so there's no reason to describe key signatures in those terms. I think they apply only to scales, and by extension to music that uses primarily the unaltered notes and chords of those scales.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I guess I'm more of an armadillo...

    That aside, it does seem an odd question, since a key signature indicates only a basic key that music is written in, and sometimes hardly even that. A piece of music in any key can be as diatonic or chromatic as you please. We can't assume that because we have a key signature of one sharp, we're going to hear only the notes of a diatonic G major or E minor scale. All we can be sure of is that F will be sharped unless it's notated otherwise. Key signatures don't predict diatonicism or chromaticism, and so there's no reason to describe key signatures in those terms. I think they apply only to scales, and by extension to music that uses primarily the unaltered notes and chords of those scales.
    That answer/rebuttal seems as nit-picky as me, with my desire for a "perfect answer" to the viiº issue.
    That being said, the degree of chromaticism is not central. Since the key signature indicates the main diatonic scale used, for notation purposes, it seems obvious that it is designed for diatonic convenience. Your "chromaticism" is an afterthought, merely an attempt at rebuttal (as usual).

    You admitted that "a key signature indicates only a basic key that music is written in", and then tried to erode that simple straightforward solution with the qualifiers "only" and "sometimes hardly even that." Tsk tsk.

    I certainly hope you don't run in to these problems when you are playing the piano on the job and are faced with a piece of music with a key signature. You might "freeze up" with all these exceptions and doubts.

    What if another musician asks you "what key do you play this in?", what will you tell him/her? "Oh, it's in G, but I'm playing it in a very chromatic G."

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    All we can be sure of is that F will be sharped unless it's notated otherwise. Key signatures don't predict diatonicism or chromaticism.


    Now you are conflating "a diatonic style of music" and "a chromatic style of music" with the literal, simple meaning of diatonic (which are the 7-note scales we are all familiar with). You did say "All we can be sure of is that F will be sharped unless it's notated otherwise," and that fits the meaning of "a key signature is diatonic" because its a notation device that indicates a diatonic scale.

    The key word which brings "key signatures" and "scales" together is the term "diatonic." If someone can't make that association, they are distracted.

    You seem to want to erode the meanings of simple definitions by bringing in all these exceptions, and that can be very unproductive in a discussion, unless, of course, it is not your purpose.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-30-2020 at 13:05.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    That answer/rebuttal seems as nit-picky as me, with my desire for a "perfect answer" to the viiº issue.
    That being said, the degree of chromaticism is not central. Since the key signature indicates the main diatonic scale used, for notation purposes, it seems obvious that it is designed for diatonic convenience. Your "chromaticism" is an afterthought, merely an attempt at rebuttal (as usual).

    You admitted that "a key signature indicates only a basic key that music is written in", and then tried to erode that simple straightforward solution with the qualifiers "only" and "sometimes hardly even that." Tsk tsk.

    I certainly hope you don't run in to these problems when you are playing the piano on the job and are faced with a piece of music with a key signature. You might "freeze up" with all these exceptions and doubts.

    What if another musician asks you "what key do you play this in?", what will you tell him/her? "Oh, it's in G, but I'm playing it in a very chromatic G."



    Now you are conflating "a diatonic style of music" and "a chromatic style of music" with the literal, simple meaning of diatonic (which are the 7-note scales we are all familiar with). You did say "All we can be sure of is that F will be sharped unless it's notated otherwise," and that fits the meaning of "a key signature is diatonic" because its a notation device that indicates a diatonic scale.

    The key word which brings "key signatures" and "scales" together is the term "diatonic." If someone can't make that association, they are distracted.

    You seem to want to erode the meanings of simple definitions by bringing in all these exceptions, and that can be very unproductive in a discussion, unless, of course, it is not your purpose.
    Jumpin' Jehosaphat.

    Your question was: "are key signatures diatonic." The answer is: no, the concept is not applicable, and the question involves an improper use of terminology. Scales are diatonic. To quote you: "you seem to want to erode the meanings of simple definitions." Everybody knows that the A major scale (for example) is diatonic. That doesn't make the key signature of three sharps diatonic.

    We are not all as indifferent as you are to the proper use of words.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-30-2020 at 17:22.

  6. #36
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Your question was: "are key signatures diatonic." The answer is: no, the concept is not applicable, and the question involves an improper use of terminology.
    That doesn't make sense. Of course a key signature refers to a diatonic scale. In that sense, "key signatures are diatonic." Are you saying they aren't?

    To be more specific, the real thrust of the question was "Are key signatures diatonic (in nature)?

    We are not all as indifferent as you are to the proper use of words.
    Whatever, dude. I didn't learn theory from Catholic nuns, and I'm using "diatonic" as a descriptor which characterizes the entire CP notation system, and the scales that go with it. The CP system is diatonic, not chromatic, including the staff lines, letter names, and key signatures. If you can't grasp that, you truly are 'CP piano-blind.' You might be technically correct in one narrow sense, but the overall "truth" of what is presented begins to sound absurd to a chromatic instrument/player /thinker like myself.

    Quote me on this:
    "Key signatures are part of the CP diatonic system and are used to refer to diatonic scales, and are in this descriptive sense diatonic in nature."
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-30-2020 at 21:50.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Of course a key signature refers to a diatonic scale. In that sense, "key signatures are diatonic." Are you saying they aren't?

    To be more specific, the real thrust of the question was "Are key signatures diatonic (in nature)?
    OK, I see what you're getting at. Your initial question is phrased in a kind of shorthand or ellipsis that doesn't really say what you meant it to say. No need to be abusive because I found it meaningless. As phrased, it is. "Thing A is Thing B" isn't the same statement as "Thing A refers to Thing B." But even the locution "refers to" is vague and provides no clear information.

    As I would explain this, the only thing a key signature is is a symbol of a key - i.e., of a tonal area organized around a particular pitch class serving as its tonal center - and a guide to playing music in that key. What is properly called diatonic is not the key signature but the scale that constitutes the main defining pitch content of a key area, which is indicated by a key signature. In English, and in the vocabulary of music theory, "diatonic" is not a descriptor for key signatures.

    Not to harp, but precise thinking and communicating requires precise use of words. Music theory isn't a good place for reading between the lines. Music itself is the arena for that.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The CP system is diatonic, not chromatic, including the staff lines, letter names, and key signatures. If you can't grasp that, you truly are 'CP piano-blind.' You might be technically correct in one narrow sense, but the overall "truth" of what is presented begins to sound absurd to a chromatic instrument/player /thinker like myself.
    The statement that the CP system is diatonic is wrong, as the system was obviously designed to accommodate and produce both diatonic and chromatic music. Thousands upon thousands of CP works falsify your statement.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Quote me on this:
    "Key signatures are part of the CP diatonic system and are used to refer to diatonic scales, and are in this descriptive sense diatonic in nature."
    Might I suggest getting a dictionary and looking up the word refer?
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-31-2020 at 00:43.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    OK, I see what you're getting at. Your initial question is phrased in a kind of shorthand or ellipsis that doesn't really say what you meant it to say. No need to be abusive because I found it meaningless. As phrased, it is. "Thing A is Thing B" isn't the same statement as "Thing A refers to Thing B." But even the locution "refers to" is vague and provides no clear information.
    No, this isn't a matter of phrasing or shorthand; I'm using the term "diatonic" as a descriptor, to describe the CP system.

    I went through this same thing when I used the term "harmonic" as a descriptor to describe certain tonal music, and it was being confused with the use as a noun, as in "a harmonic of a fundamental."

    I see it now as an argument strategy. "Oh, I see what you're saying now..." Sure you do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    As I would explain this, the only thing a key signature is is a symbol of a key - i.e., of a tonal area organized around a particular pitch class serving as its tonal center - and a guide to playing music in that key. What is properly called diatonic is not the key signature but the scale that constitutes the main defining pitch content of a key area, which is indicated by a key signature. In English, and in the vocabulary of music theory, "diatonic" is not a descriptor for key signatures.
    I disagree; I think "diatonic" will be found used as a descriptor if we do a search-engine on it. I'd bet five dollars on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Not to harp, but precise thinking and communicating requires precise use of words. Music theory isn't a good place for reading between the lines. Music itself is the arena for that.
    The reason you can't see "diatonic" used as a descriptor of the CP system and its components (scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names) is because you have no need to. You are content with things the way they are. I know that you don't like modern music which lies outside the CP realm. You can call me "imprecise," and I can call you "blindered."

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    The statement that the CP system is diatonic is wrong, as the system was obviously designed to accommodate and produce both diatonic and chromatic music.
    No, you are wrong, probably because you are a pianist. The CP system was designed for diatonic use, and its components (scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names) reflect this.

    That it can be "worked around" to write chromatic music doesn't disprove this.

    Pat Martino, the brilliant jazz guitarist & theorist, says this:


    "The communal language of music that all musicians share - that is, the language of scales, theory, and intervals that we all use when explaining or communicating music - really has nothing to do with any instrument other than the piano.” -Pat Martino


    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Thousands upon thousands of CP works falsify your statement.
    That's hogwash; I can provide many examples why I am justified in saying the CP system was designed for diatonic use.

    The brilliant guitarist Alan Holdsworth praised Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales because it didn't use key signatures; this made it more understandable to players who used chromatic instruments such as the guitar, which is by nature chromatic.

    John Coltrane also used the book. Dennis Sandole was a theory teacher in Philadelphia who is largely responsible for the spread of this information and this way of approaching music theory. BTW, this is all about jazz, not playing hymns in Sunday school or Bach chorales.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Might I suggest getting a dictionary and looking up the word refer?
    Refer: To place in or under by a mental or rational process; to assign to, as a class, a cause, source, a motive, reason, or ground of explanation.

    That sounds like exactly the right word.

    You and Woodduck are piano players (or piano-thinkers). You apparently can't see all this.

    Why are you guys trying to defend and obscure this point by using "strict" definitions of diatonic and "strict" logic? You can't use it as a descriptor?
    I really don't understand, other than just to invalidate my point. Are you afraid that "CP" will be "exposed" as diatonic? I thought everybody here liked CP music like Mozart, bach, etc.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-31-2020 at 13:43.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    No, this isn't a matter of phrasing or shorthand; I'm using the term "diatonic" as a descriptor, to describe the CP system.
    No you are not. You are calling KEY SIGNATURES diatonic. Please refer back to your own posts. But guess what? It's also misleading to call the common practice system diatonic. It's misleading because "diatonic," as applied to CP, is meaningful only because "chromatic" applies to the system as well. Those two concepts exist only in opposition to each other; if there were no chromaticism, the concept of "diatonicism" wouldn't be needed and wouldn't exist. "Diatonic" and "chromatic" describe scales and harmony - which may be either diatonic or chromatic - but not CP as a whole, which necessarily subsumes both.

    EdwardBast puts it this way: "The statement that the CP system is diatonic is wrong, as the system was obviously designed to accommodate and produce both diatonic and chromatic music. Thousands upon thousands of CP works falsify your statement."


    I see it now as an argument strategy. "Oh, I see what you're saying now..." Sure you do.
    You're calling me a liar.

    I disagree; I think "diatonic" will be found used as a descriptor if we do a search-engine on it. I'd bet five dollars on it.
    Who said it isn't a descriptor? I merely said that it isn't an adjective used to describe key signatures, and that using it that way is at best elliptical and confusing. I tried to decipher what you meant by it, and you're abusing me for that and calling me a liar.

    The reason you can't see "diatonic" used as a descriptor of the CP system and its components (scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names) is because you have no need to.
    How do you know what I "have no need" to do? I can tell you what I DO need to do, and that's to use language in a way that's accurate and comprehensible to other people.

    You are content with things the way they are.
    It isn't for you to say what I'm content with.

    I know that you don't like modern music which lies outside the CP realm.
    My personal tastes are irrelevant (and your generalization is presumptuous and wrong).

    You can call me "imprecise," and I can call you "blindered."
    You ARE imprecise - frequently. And you call people all sorts of things that say nothing about them but a lot about you.

    This is another theory thread which you yourself are spoiling (something you're always accusing others of doing). I have made a good faith effort here to overlook your "let's see if you ignoramuses can guess what I already know" game-playing, and to understand what you're talking about despite your imprecise language, and you can't even get far enough past your fragile ego to appreciate it.

    If you keep abusing people for the crime of questioning your thinking, it isn't going to end well. This is a forum. People discuss and debate ideas on forums. Anyone here has the right to question the statements of any other member. If you can't bear having yours questioned, you'd be better off not participating, and the rest of us would be better off not having to come here and find ourselves tagged with your outrageous and insulting "descriptors."
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-31-2020 at 17:50.

  14. #42
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    No you are not. You are calling KEY SIGNATURES diatonic.
    Those are included: scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names, the entire CP system is diatonic.
    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Please refer back to your own posts. But guess what? It's also misleading to call the common practice system diatonic. It's misleading because "diatonic," as applied to CP, is meaningful only because "chromatic" applies to the system as well. Those two concepts exist only in opposition to each other; if there were no chromaticism, the concept of "diatonicism" wouldn't be needed and wouldn't exist.
    Are you sure about that? This goes all the way back to the Greeks. I think it has more to do with tetrachords than scales. The chromatic scale didn't even exist back then, did it? Back then, scales did not divide the octave into 12 parts. I see a lot of red flags in this theory of yours. The whole convoluted history is a little too complex for you to be so off-handedly using it as internet argument fodder. Anyway, I'm using "diatonic" as a descriptor, not as a technical term.

    I've even had people here argue against the fact that the 12-note division of the octave was derived from Pythagoran procedures (stacking the fifth), so I'm very wary when you say "diatonic...is meaningful only because "chromatic" applies to the system as well."

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    "Diatonic" and "chromatic" describe scales and harmony - which may be either diatonic or chromatic - but not CP as a whole, which necessarily subsumes both.
    The CP system can accommodate and notate chromatic notes, but it was designed for diatonic music. The chromatic notes were always treated as exceptions. If it was "chromatic," the why are scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names, not "chromatic"as well, with no half steps between B-C and E-F, etc.
    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    You're calling me a liar.
    No, it's just that I don't trust you, Woodduck. You make no effort to recognize the bigger picture in what I'm saying, and often get snagged-up on definitions. BTW, I think the mods are getting tired of these kinds of overly-dramatic insulting replies of yours, such as accusing me of accusing you of being a "liar" and "abusing" you. Our posts don't represent us, remember?

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Who said it isn't a descriptor? I merely said that it isn't an adjective used to describe key signatures, and that using it that way is at best elliptical and confusing. I tried to decipher what you meant by it, and you're abusing me for that and calling me a liar.
    Yes, I used "diatonic" as a descriptor for the CP system.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    How do you know what I "have no need" to do? I can tell you what I DO need to do, and that's to use language in a way that's accurate and comprehensible to other people...It isn't for you to say what I'm content with...My personal tastes are irrelevant (and your generalization is presumptuous and wrong)...You ARE imprecise - frequently. And you call people all sorts of things that say nothing about them but a lot about you.
    You're too argumentative to see any point I make.

    This is another theory thread which you yourself are spoiling (something you're always accusing others of doing). I have made a good faith effort here to overlook your "let's see if you ignoramuses can guess what I already know" game-playing, and to understand what you're talking about despite your imprecise language, and you can't even get far enough past your fragile ego to appreciate it.
    Sometimes you appear to be quite intellectual, but this side of it is too "dramatic" for that to hold much credibility.

    If you keep abusing people for the crime of questioning your thinking, it isn't going to end well. This is a forum. People discuss and debate ideas on forums. Anyone here has the right to question the statements of any other member. If you can't bear having yours questioned, you'd be better off not participating, and the rest of us would be better off not having to come here and find ourselves tagged with your outrageous and insulting "descriptors."
    That sounds like your "forum police" side emerging. Way too much drama for me. I'm here to discuss ideas about music theory. This reminds me of how James Brown would "faint," and his assistant would bring his robe and lead him away. Then, BLAM! he would suddenly break away, and return to his funky self.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    No, you are wrong, probably because you are a pianist. The CP system was designed for diatonic use, and its components (scales, key signatures, keyboard layout, staff, letter names) reflect this.

    That it can be "worked around" to write chromatic music doesn't disprove this.
    I'm a guitarist. And I play piano too. Worked around? It's an efficient system that has been readily used for centuries of chromatic music. I'm sorry if it's so much work for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Pat Martino, the brilliant jazz guitarist & theorist, says this:


    "The communal language of music that all musicians share - that is, the language of scales, theory, and intervals that we all use when explaining or communicating music - really has nothing to do with any instrument other than the piano.” -Pat Martino

    Martino is wrong. He forgot about woodwinds and pitched percussion.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Refer: To place in or under by a mental or rational process; to assign to, as a class, a cause, source, a motive, reason, or ground of explanation.

    That sounds like exactly the right word.
    Key signatures facilitate writing in specific keys. Refer is a bad choice of wording.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Why are you guys trying to defend and obscure this point by using "strict" definitions of diatonic and "strict" logic? You can't use it as a descriptor?
    I really don't understand, other than just to invalidate my point. Are you afraid that "CP" will be "exposed" as diatonic? I thought everybody here liked CP music like Mozart, bach, etc.
    Once again, CP music is based on keys in which, by the mid-18thc at latest, the full chromatic collection is employed routinely.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    I'm a guitarist. And I play piano too. Worked around? It's an efficient system that has been readily used for centuries of chromatic music. I'm sorry if it's so much work for you.
    I'm not saying that CP notation could be dropped; it's all we've got. And pardon me, but it's quite obvious to anyone that the piano reflects the CP diatonic system more naturally than the guitar does.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Martino is wrong. He forgot about woodwinds and pitched percussion.
    Heresy! You DARE to dis Pat Martino? Wow, that's hubris to the max! I don't get you; not enough back-up. Orchestral instruments favor certain keys, too, like "Eb saxophone." Oh, my gosh, I'm gonna faint! Quick, get Woodduck over here with the smelling salts!

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Key signatures facilitate writing in specific keys. Refer is a bad choice of wording.
    That doesn't matter, now that you & WD have pretended you don't know what I'm saying.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Once again, CP music is based on keys in which, by the mid-18thc at latest, the full chromatic collection is employed routinely.
    I certainly hope so! Duh! After all there are 12 notes in an octave, not seven!
    Yes, but once again, those notes are always exceptions. Overall, the CP system favors diatonic music.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-31-2020 at 23:08.

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