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How Scales and Intervals REALLY Work

Scales: Brain-averse, Brain-friendly

What Is a Music Scale? Discrete vs Continuous In Organizing Sound

There is geometry in the ringing of strings.


Music scales are comprised of discrete pitches. Whether speaking or singing, humans automatically and effortlessly use discrete pitches,, with only the occasional slide. By contrast, our primate cousins, such as gibbons and chimpanzees, either vocalize in pitch glides (conttinuous sounds) or without distinct pitches—just grunts and pants.

Discrete pitches in speech and music, not continous sounds, serve to organize sound in such a way that the brain can recognize patterns and make sense of them. Once you have more than one discrete tone, you can have a scale of some sort.

Humans undoubtedly turned discrete tones into songs long before anybody recognized the existence of musical scales. At some point, it must have become clear that the tunes people remembered tended to use the same sets of notes: scales.

A tune or melody is a coherent or distinctive succession of tone pairs called intervals. The notes of a tune (melody) move up and down in pitch, stepping or leaping from note to note, using the same notes time after time, like stepping up and down the same staircase.

That means the notes themselves must come from some set of related notes of different pitches. This set of notes is called a scale. But how does the brain recognize a set of pitches as a scale?

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