Diatonic scale

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In music theory, a diatonic scale (from the Greek διατονικός, meaning "[progressing] through tones", also known as the heptatonia prima) is a seven note octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps. This pattern ensures that, in a diatonic scale spanning more than one octave, all the half steps are maximally separated from each other (i.e. separated by at least two whole steps).

The term diatonic originally referred to the diatonic genus, one of the three genera of the ancient Greeks. In musical set theory, Allen Forte classifies diatonic scales as set form 7-35.



These scales are the foundation of the European musical tradition. The modern major and minor scales are diatonic, as were all of the 'church modes'. What are now called major and minor were in reality - during the medieval and Renaissance periods - only two of seven modes ('church modes') based on the same diatonic notes (but forming different scales when the starting note was changed). Depending on which of the seven notes is used as the beginning, the positions of the intervals, the half-steps, end at different distances from the starting tone, hence obtaining seven different scales or modes which are as already mentioned, deduced from the diatonic scale. By the start of the Baroque period, the notion of musical key was established—based on a central triad rather than a central tone. Major and minor scales came to dominate until at least the start of the 20th century, partly because their intervallic patterns are suited to the reinforcement of a central triad. Some church modes survived into the early 18th century, as well as appearing occasionally in classical and 20th century music, and later in modal jazz.


The earliest claimed occurrence of diatonic tuning is in the 45,000 year-old so-called "Neanderthal flute" (Divje Babe flute) found at Divje Babe. Although there is no consensus that this is a musical instrument, there has been one claim that it played a diatonic scale.[1]

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