— 2012 — Nov 25

Harmonic Brightness & Darkness

by Anton Schwartz

Let’s look at the notes of the C major scale, indicated on the circle of fifths:
C Major Scale
The circle around C is bolder than the others to indicate that we are looking at a C major scale rather than, say, D dorian.

Notice how the notes lie together along one stretch of the circle. That’s because if you start on a low F and ascend a perfect fifth six times, the notes you hit are exactly the notes of a C major scale:


Compare the C major scale to the C natural minor (Aeolian) scale pictured here:
C Aeolian Scale
We can see that three notes previously to the right of C have been replaced by notes to the left of C. This gives the scale a darker, minor quality.

In general, we can look at the notes to the left of C as adding darkness to a C scale, and the notes to the right as adding brightness. In fact, within the tonality of C, if we move left (counterclockwise) starting from C, the further we move, the darker the sound of the notes we encounter… and the further right (clockwise) we move, the brighter the notes sound:

Darker & Brighter

This notion of brightness and darkness as directions along the circle of fifths is not anything I’ve seen in the jazz literature, but I find it very helpful for thinking about harmony and sound.

For instance, let’s look at the various modes of the major scale. Let’s start with C Lydian:
C Lydian Scale
Here every note other than the root lies clockwise from the root. Accordingly, Lydian is the brightest sounding of all the modes. We can generate the next brightest scale by eliminating the brightest note, F. In its place, we add a note from those that are darker than the notes in the scale. The least dark of all those notes is F:
Lydian to Major
This leaves us with the major scale. Continuing along, replacing the brightest note (B, the major seventh) with the next darker note (B, the minor seventh), we get the Mixolydian scale:
Major to Mixolydian
And so we continue, our scales growing progressively dark, until we reach Locrian, the darkest mode: Mixolydian becomes Dorian, which becomes Aeolian, which becomes Phrygian, which finally becomes Locrian, as we see here.
Phrygian to Locrian
The darkness of the Locrian sound is manifest in the fact that all the notes are now situated counterclockwise from the root.

On its own, a note is neither bright nor dark.

Only when we consider a note relative to a tonal center – a frame of reference – do the words bright and dark even have meaning. The note C is neither bright nor dark. But it is bright, for instance, in the key of E (C is the major sixth of E) and dark in the key of A (it is the minor third).

Brightness and the Compass

There is a good analogy to be made between dark/bright and east/west.
On its own, a place is neither east nor west. Only when you have a frame of reference – a location to compare to – do those notions apply. If we think of the ourselves looking down at Earth from a great distance above the north pole, with the keys in the circle of fifth laid out uniformly around the equator, then brightness corresponds to west and darkness to east:
East & West

On their own, the notes that make up a scale are neither bright nor dark.

Only when we designate one of them as the root do those notions apply. C Lydian is bright; F Locrian is dark. Yet they are the same set of notes.

On their own, rootless chord voicings are neither bright nor dark.

Take this simple example of a four-note voicing:
Rootless Voicing
The four notes are a voicing for a dark-sounding C7 or, equally well, a bright sounding D711, depending on what bass note is played underneath.

When we show the chord on the circle of fifths and indicate the bass notes, here is what we get:
Rootless VoicingRootless VoicingRootless Voicing
The bass note sets the reference point for our ears: Relative to C, the notes are mostly counterclockwise, so the sound is dark. Relative to D, the notes are all clockwise and, hence, sound bright.

Here is another example. Observe the following two chords:
Two Chords
Notice that each consists of the same six notes. They are simply placed in different octaves. In the first case, the result is a very dark sound; in the second a very bright sound. Observe the two chords indicated on the circle of fifths:
C7alt circleG13#11 circle
The two diagrams are identical except for their reference points. In the first case, the low C of the chord establishes C as the reference point, and we notice that most of the other notes are counterclockwise from the reference, giving a dark sound. Conversely, the low G of the second chord establishes G as the reference point, leaving most of the notes clockwise of the reference, yielding a bright sound.

If you can’t hear the difference in brightness between the two chords, it may be because you’re playing them consecutively and not giving your ear a chance to actually shift reference points. Try putting a long silence between the two, or playing ten seconds of random notes in between.

Where bright meets dark

The brightest note of the brightest mode, Lydian, is the 11. Interestingly, that note is also the darkest note (the 5) of darkest mode, Locrian. How can that be? In the same way that India is both East and West of the United States. In the context of a Pacific Ocean voyage, India is far west. Yet we speak of it as “The Far East” because of the European origins of our nation’s founders. In much the same way, F is equally clockwise and counterclockwise from C, so knowing that we are in the key of C is insufficient to tell us whether F will sound bright or dark; instead we rely on the context of other notes. In the context of C Locrian, F is just slightly counterclockwise from (darker than) any other note, making it the darkest of many dark notes; in C lydian it is the brightest of many bright notes.

The darkest note of dark Locrian (b5) = the brightest note of bright Lydian (#11). #HarmonyIsCircular Click To Tweet

Terminology of “bright” and “dark”

Bright and Dark, as I use them, may be a bit misleading. Many people associate high pitches with brightness and low pitches with darkness, but the notion of brightness/darkness I’m going for is independent of high or low pitch. A good alternative might be “majorness” and “minorness”. Interestingly, those notions too are independent of pitch, and yet people learning to identify them often mistake high pitched chords for major and low pitched chords for minor… so in that way they resemble brightness and darkness. But if we used the words “major” and “minor” for the notions of bright and dark I’m presenting here, we would run into trouble: Brighter and darker are essential notions but their equivalents, “more major” and “more minor,” would be at odds with standard musical usage. We can say that one dominant chord is brighter than another, but it is confusing to say that one is “more major,” since, by convention, the concepts of major, minor and dominant are mutually exclusive.

15 Responses

  1. Jeff Taylor says:

    Hi Anton,

    This article caught my eye since the bright-to-dark continuum is taught in Gary Burton’s Berklee jazz improv class (lesson 2 – “Seven Modes from Bright to Dark”).

    Breifly, he states “As improvisers, we are going to find it more useful to think of the modes a little differently than the technical explanation described above…” (ie learning/applying them in a scale degree based way I ii iii etc).

    “What is important to us as improvisers is the sound of the scale and the type of harmonic coloration suggested by the mode…is it brighter or darker? Consequently, it is more logical to think of the modes in this order: from brightest to the darkest…”

    “View the notation and listen to the audio for each mode. Remember, the goal is to form a visual image of the shape and pattern of each scale and imprint an aural memory of the scale sound.”

    He then plays each of the modes in this “new” order and allows the student to hear these evolving “colors” in context to one another.

    I appreciate your examples and the how you derived their order using the circle of fifths. To me this drilled the concept even more succintly.

    Small Note: I thought regarding spelling one ex. Cm7:

    “On their own, rootless chord voicings are neither bright nor dark.
    Take this simple example of a four-note voicing: The four notes are a voicing for a dark-sounding Cm7 or …”

    I would hear that as a Cm11 but it’s a small detail and perhaps that’s the “dark” you wanted to illustrate..

    thanks Anton…I intend to take some of your classes as time permits!

    • Thanks for the Gary Burton anecdote, Jeff! As for the voicing… you’re absolutely that it’s a Cm11. Players use that one as a standard quartal voicing for Cm7. It’s sometimes called a “So What” voicing. To my ears, if you want to make it really sound like a Cm11 you place the 11 up high rather than at the bottom. In any case, it’s a bit academic because Cm11 voicings are just a subcategory of Cm7 voicings, just like all C9 voicings are C7 voicings too. :)

  2. Klaviersonic says:

    Hi Anton, fab lesson! I’ve never seen this approach to showing modal brightness/darkness in terms of the circle of fifths, especially applied to modal harmony. Really fascinating insights!

    I did notice an error on your C aeolian chart. A-natural should be A-flat shouldn’t it?

    • Thanks for the catch, Klaviersonc! Indeed, I said Aeolian but I illustrated Dorian. Fixed now.

  3. Adam Kleczewski says:

    Are you familiar with the work of W.A Mathieu? His book “Harmonic Experience” deals with many of the same ideas you are talking about here (i.e. a geometric map of harmony with regions of harmonic brightness and darkness). One major difference being that the map he draws is a two dimensional plane with perfect fifths on one axis and major thirds on the other rather than a one dimensional line (in the shape of a circle).


    • Thanks for the tip, Adam. I know of Mathieu is but I’m unfamiliar with “Harmonic Experience.” I look forward to checking it out!

  4. for me i see the intonation of scales as what gives them darkness. the root note doesn’t affect it quite as much as the space between notes. any song that uses the same scale progressions but different modes could just as easily transpose them. the only thing that would change that is intonation.

    for example the difference of the Major Pentatonic and the Minor Pentatonic is the number of semi tones between the keys.
    major is 21211 (C-D#-F-G#-A#) it doesn’t matter the root key no scale or chord has to start with the root. that is usually defined as whatever the lowest note is in the chord and can change through out a piece depending on how it’s played.
    minor pentatonic is 21121 (C-D#-F-G-A) and can be started at any root note. this doesn’t change a scales or modes darkness or brightness, but how you play it does. for transposing purposes changing the root intonation of the scale changes the tone, but the same can be from transposing the notes (pitch) too, with the same intonation.
    It’s how the blues note sounds the same no mater what scale it’s played in, but different instruments have different intonations and notes (pitch). What changes the perceived darkness or lights of different intonations at different pitches comes from the bi-aural beat of the notes, which is the sum difference of the two notes. If it a sympathetic harmonic is what changes the darkness of the note.
    440hz A note and a 880hz A note will have a beat of 440hz and is sympathetic to the 440hz root note. This is called a perfect unison, intonation wise and is as bright as it gets.
    There is no study on the difference of notes played after each other but there would still be some sort of beat between them received by the listener to some extent as psychoacoustics. but even when A440 and A880 are played one after another the feeling of a perfect unison is still in the listeners head if they are played close enough that the actual 440hz beat is not heard but known.
    To take Middle C for example and the first note above it in the major triad (which is arguably the only note in it that makes it major as the minor triad is the flattening of the second note in the major triad).
    C4, middles C, is 261.63hz and E4 is 329.63hz the beat of the two notes is 68hz.
    C4 is 131.87 cm long in wavelength and E4 is 104.89 cm in wavelength. this doesn’t matter until you look at sympathetic harmonics or frequency. The perfect length of a perfect sympathetic harmonic or a perfect unison is the exact same length of the note. to half or double the length is to raise or lower by one octave exactly. so the length of the note is note needed but it does play into why cretin frequencies seem bright or dark.
    To be half of the length or a octave lower still sounds as bright as any note can to any other note. The same as above as it is below the root note.

    Soooooo… the 68hz beat of the C4 E4 major intonation is about a 1/4 of the length of the C4 note. A quarter of C4 at 261.63hz is 65.4075hz. So the 68hz beat is close. Not many people tune to exact two digit decimal place.

    C4 261.63hz to the minor D#4 293.66hz minor intonation beat is 32.03hz almost 1/8th of the root C4. The root is the lowest note, only because intonation isn’t about what the composer wrote down to use as a subjective reference for classically trained people that dates back centuries old.

    The pure maths of intonation shows you can have the darkest scale or mode ever, and just not play the dark notes and it doesn’t sound dark. Take the darkest mode of them all, Chromatic Scale. all 12 notes. Everything sounds fucked up when you play it in triad chords of A-A#-B. But you could also play it in a major intonation way.

    So what makes a scale dark or bright is the composer who has the brain. I write songs, I don’t take other peoples songs and just transpose them with scales and mode and see which does what, because the 12 note temperate scale is the exact same scale all bright and dark modes and scales come from. Tetrad Scale or chromatic.

    so if your interested the standard Ionian mode is 1101110.
    C1D1E0F1G1A1B0, a keyboard minus the black keys.
    It’s the intonations of the notes which is where the beats are made and from that the sympathetic harmonics, which make the bright or dark of a scale.

    This is all the different premuations of the intonations of the scales like the keys on a paino and moving the black keys around. Ionian as most modes are the third scale in the list. where you start on the scale changes the darkness and brightness some, but that’s from a note to note not looking at a scale as a whole and judging subjectively at it’s darkness and brightness. This is objective math.

    1011110 Melodic Minor
    1101110 Ionian mode
    1110110 Lydian mode
    1111010 Super Locrian

    Now modes like Aeolian and Harmonic minor which are seen as ‘DARK’ are just richer in different harmonics then the standard Ionian and Lydian modes. Harmonic Minor goes as followed: 1011020 or C1D0Eb1F1G0G#2B0.
    So to run the patterns you can get more modes then just what you found in a book by some dood 300 years ago. Science.

    ect… ect…

    Turns out there’s a lot more mah that can be done when you open up one more spot.

    So yeah, what is the darkest or brightest scale/mode. well, first you need to figure out how many modes there is. The 7 Ionian modes are the same. Where and how you play them make them dakr are bright. If you like to play the chords 1-4-5 over and over, then yeah which of the 7 Ionian modes you use is very important.

    Ionian Scales overview

    Interval: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
    Semi-notes: 2 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 1
    Formula: Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half

    Each mode is just starting the Ionian Mode at a different point.
    1101110 C Ionian
    1011101 D Dorian
    0111011 E Phrygian
    1110110 F Lydian
    1101101 G Mixolydian
    1011011 A Aeolian
    0110111 B Locrian

    you just move the first number back. Same intonations. So as longs as you start every chord and every melody from the root note that mode will give you the difference in brightness and darkness. In all reality the seven modes are the exact same. So when you start adding in different intonations like the ‘Brighter’ Lydian scale, it just comes down to how you use it.

    It’s not the length of the rope it’s how you tie the knot, as a sailor says.

    So if Lydian is brighter then Super Locrian must be even brighter. But in all reality the 5 modal intonation scales I show here are about as bright and dark as each other, it’s not until you get into intonations of 2 that things start to sound DARK. Harmonic Minor and all of the MANY MANY permutations it can make. They’re not melodic, dark is just less harmonic. so something like 0002111 is going to sound about as dark as it’s going to get.

    Until you play something like 0000311 or 0000041 or the unholy ghastly 0000005 which is really just a Chroma Scale, since it has a root note. chromatic scale doesn’t have a root note. Chromatic Scale although it’s name says scale is a mode. Modes don’t have roots.

    Oh, and pentatonic are simple:
    21121 minor
    21211 major
    22111 cthulu

    There is no name for the last of the 3 Pentatonic scales, so I just made up a name for it. That’s it. I think Cthulu is the darkest of the pentatonic scales.

    so even for what is the darkest mode it’s not just the 0000005 scale is the darkest, but what it’s the root note, but how many notes. Also what you play on it.

    Just a thought, I could be wrong. I had a weird teacher that talked about dorian being the middle of the darkest and brightest of the modes and this is just my own thoughts on it a step further.

    • Hi Clifford,
      Thanks for the thoughts! For starters, you have some errors scattered around that are skewing things. For instance, the a minor third is not half the size of major third (1/8 versus 1/4 as you say) – it is considerably larger, so your frequencies must be off… and 21211 doesn’t represent a major pentatonic scale… and there are many more pentatonic scales than the three you give, etc.
      More generally, your notions of brightness and darkness and intonation are not ones that I’ve ecountered before, and I can’t say I understand them. You take unisons and octaves to be the brightest, and I’m not really sure your definition of darkness – perhaps you can try to spell it out explicitly. In any case, it seems very different than any use of the words I’ve heard.
      “So if Lydian is brighter then Super Locrian must be even brighter.” What’s your reasoning here? Super Locrian is quite dark. All of its notes except the major third are on the dark side of the circle of fifths relative to the root.
      One thing I do agree with is your teacher’s claim of “Dorian being the middle of the darkest and brightest of the modes”. I wish I could understand how your comments relate to that… but it’s great that you’re thinking hard about these things!

      • the measurement was not of the the beat between the notes, measuring just the first and second of the major and minor triad. the maths there. I’d like to know what exactly is off about that, you don’t explain it.

        also the 21211 can be said 32322 but the minor scale is the same intonation of the scale 2121121211 the minor starting 2 intonations in. the only other pentatonic scale would be 22111 if you include zero intonation spacing into it it’s stops being pentatonic int he sense that the notes then have disharmonics.

        unisons are by definition called PERFECT harmonics. They are exactly intuned to the root note. the root note can ever be considered a perfect harmonic of itself as well, if you have heard a choir sing the same notes at the same time, it’s hard to say it sound disharmonic if done properly.

        darkness is disharmonics. The Harmonic Minor scale has more disharmonics that don’t fit together. the disharmonics come from too many harmonics that don’t conflict as much as come closer and closer to white noise. to have every harmonic like to play every note on the piano at the same time is closer to white noise, which is every harmonic. that’s the extremes.

        The other side of dark and light in modes is the voicing of the modes or scales. To play major triads on a harmonic minor scale will sound dark. If you choose different chord voicings this can be changed.

        So to say it another way in comparison to the circle of 5ths is that if you play diminished chords on c Ionian you will see it can be a dark mode as well. Try playing diminished chords on a harmonic minor scale and it sounds brighter.

        So the fact is the empirical evidence comes down to the individual notes, not the available notes. There are only 12 notes. To rank different groups of notes together as brighter or darker (harmonic or disharmonic) comes down tot he intelligence of what notes are played.

        The only way to compare one note to the other is the ‘beat’ of a note, and since music is a function of math I know I come off as kind of a nut saying that math can show if 2 notes are bright or dark. But the unison is the example. Show me any mode you think is dark or bright and just play octaves. They are exact harmonics. You don’t even need too.

        The root note has other subharmonics, 440hz when played on a piano, strongest subharmonic will be 880hz. So to play the octave above is something that occurs in nature, and that means you’re not playing conflicting harmonics that diminish the sound of the root.

        The fact that the strongest subharmonic is exactly the same space away from the root note is because of the vibrations of the string, which is another example of the math of the harmonics. The piano is a popular instrument but stringed instruments could be said the most popular instruments that all share the same property, so to say that the subharmonics or the division of the notes and how it relates isn’t important then i can’t explain why stringed instruments have any popularity at all.

        Stringed instruments are why we use scales and modes.

        Besides that, you’re judging brightest and darkness of modes based on playing bright chords like major chords, and that is subjective in some sense. It also looks at pitch equally. This formula can also look at notes not in the 12 tone temperament. The Pentatonic intonation doesn’t apply to the circle of fifth either. So you have a nice rule of thumb, but there is objective evidence.

        The Dorian being the middle of the darkest of the light looks at all the known scales/modes. There are modes and scales that are not named, but I label with intonation only. How do you rank them in darkness or brightness. By looking at intonation you start to see how many modes you can use and it unlocks a lot more possibilities in music.

        To say a scale is bright or dark is like looking at all 7 notes and playing them at the same time and going, that’s brighter then these 7 note chords. It comes down to how each note relates to the tonic of the mode. To play any chord on, D Dorian for example, like C Major triad, isn’t really a chord played in D Dorian but C Ionian.

        It comes down to tone intervals, not even notes, you can take 2 tones that are not even tuned to a standard instrument and hear if they sound good together. Notes that sound bad together are considered dark. Unless you mean sharpness is bright, there are some people that see when a bunch of notes all sound sharp that’s bright and flat sounding is dark.

        Also, another example you can play C Ionian which I find one of the brightest scales, this is why it’s so popular, that we start a 7 note scale at C and not A. the alphabet starts at A. but C Ionian is the brightest, but it doesn’t seem that way because we’re tone deaf to it. People liked cheesey sounding music back in the day, and using disharmonics in classical music was seen as cheeky. Not taboo unless is was the ‘Diabolus in musica’ which seen as blaspheme which is why we like the C Ionian scale because it’s not blaspheme. This is why using dark intonation was seen down upon. The Church.

        So yeah, measuring scales or modes is just in relation to each note to the root. but you see only the scales that you can name. I see any scale that can be made as a contender. most modes you use are just variations on 1101110. These intonations will always go together nicely. Try the scale I call C ‘Total fucking mess’ mode or A ‘making music in hardcore’ mode both of which intonation goes 0005000.

        Discordianism at it’s finest, I would call it the Discordianism Scale, but there are 7 of these scales 5000000, and 0500000 if we went by the same rules as dorian and ionian modes. Same intonation, just different root intonation and root notes.

        Honestly try A Discordianism A-A#-B-F-F#-G Tell me how dark that sounds. You won’t find any traditional triad chord that sounds good. but yet diminished chords sound bright on the harmonic minor which most argue is the darkest of the scales/modes.

        This then proves that traditional scales modes and triads can’t be trusted in measuring darkness or brightness. They are all subjective. Dark triads on dark modes sound bright. Bright triads on dark scales sound dark, dark triads on bright scales sound dark. bright triads on bright scales sound bright. There’s the ranking system. So try dark chords on a scale and then bright scales, and which ever sounds the most harmonic i.e. most harmoniously pleasing, closes to perfect unison.

        The ONLY reason we WANT to rank scales and chords as bright or dark is because of the tradition to avoid dark sounding intonation in music because of the Christian church ban on it.

        I don’t use the word Dissonance because that is never a thing, every tone that can be made is a harmonic of some other tone, just the maths and the ratio’s get really complex. So it’s just Harmonic, simple ratios and disharmonic complex ratios. 1/1 – 1/16 is about the simplest, anything beyond that starts to get disharmonic. So take a scale, measure every beat and see what ratio it goes to, and then you got a OBJECTIVE look at harmonics vs disharmonics.

        Harmonics and subharmonics go hand in gloves and subharmonics are just natures proof that these harmonics go with these harmonics. The stringed instrument is where this all comes into play. Dark and light modes don’t apply to sitars. The subharmonics of them are much more complex but STILL fallow the rules of basic ratios/division to complex ones.

        The funny thing the more complex a ratio gets it eventually starts to turn back in on it self. If you take a perfect octave and tune it down to the root note, you’ll hear the tonal interval go dark almost immediately, and then fluctuate between points of higher and lower darkness aka harmonic and disharmonics. The only other time you’ll hear such a sharp change from harmonic to disharmonic is from the departure of the octave and the arrival at the root note.

        This then shows the relation of the harmonics in a general sense, that you can take 2 notes and tune one until it sounds bright. Then make a note of what note that is. Hard to do on a sax, but I am sure you got Garage Band.

        Dark and light is harmonic and disharmonic. It’s the relation of the ‘beat’ of 2 notes, for lack of a simpler equation to compare to notes. The fact that ‘beats’ is a thing that exist that we use to tune instruments shows it’s important. It’s the only thing we really hear when 2 notes are played. You might not know it.

        It’s not only important but it sounds ‘Good’. Like when an orchestra is tuning it has a very unique and pleasing sound. A poorly tuned instrument is heard as annoying even, because it doesn’t follow the functions of math we expect to hear.

        Talk about the ‘beat’ briefly it also means when we play 2 notes we hear 3. when the notes are very close to each other, like when tuning a guitar, we can even hear the ‘beat’ more clearly. It can sometimes be a 10hz wave. We can’t hear a 10hz wave normally, but when 2 notes are played we can. We can hear the intonation between notes. That’s significant.

        So when a triad chord is played, 3 notes are struck, and 3 beats are heard, but they would resonate from each other causing sub’beats’ even. You won’t see people talk about this, the illuminati wants to knowledge forgotten! Because now there is 3 more notes played to each other and they cause phase cancellation of their own to each other. A a lower power, but it’s a subtle effect.

        So tell me more about how you figured out the relations of modes and scales. I am all ears, tear me new one where I am flawed. I could explain how which mode of a 23 note scale from a 44 tone equal temperament scale relate to each other from darkest to brightest.

        It’s just a fuck ton of math, and I like making song instead. Listening to Sirius by Alan Parson now even. :D

        You want to hear my take on Blues music and how the blue note is pointless and the it’s the rhythm of blues that is bluey and not the blue note. Also I have made up my own term of a red note for bending a note slightly flat after myself Clifford.

        In all reality the blues scales could be seen as 8 tone scales, but since the blue note is not to be played fully then it’s hard to consider them that.

        of the the 8 note scales and even possibly 6 note scales which are darkest and lightest?

        4 note tetrads scales?


        Clifford Armstrong: I have idea, we’ll compare them to their individual tonality to each based on there intonation.

        Anton Shwartz: No, the math doesn’t work out!

        Clifford Armstrong: It’s not that complex you just need to lookat the subharmonics and figu-

        Anton Shwartz: I’ll make a circle of letters.

        Clifford Armstrong: What? How does that explai-

        Anton Shwartz: I’ll include arrows too, of course.

        Clifford Armstrong: You know those letters represent numbers right?

        Anton Shwartz: I was never taught that, so it’s irrelevant.

        Clifford Armstrong: Those modes you like are just names for intonation, right?

        Anton Shwartz: The only modes that exist are the ones with names.

        Clifford Armstrong: I think we could make at least 144 different scales/modes.

        Anton Shwartz: Let me check the history books first to see if we can use them….

      • also you’re right about that pentatonic scale thing. C,D,F,G,A,C is 12112, 21121 is major, so 21211 is some new scale. It’s just different, order of the same order of intonations. There is other scales, but you can find out which ones are related by looking at the intonations. It’s just interesting, the major and minor pentatonic scales are the same scale, if you don’t give them a root, and then there is 3 more scales there too, if you give them names you’d have discovered new scales YOUR NAME IN HISTORY BOOKS FOREVER.

        It also shows when you look at intonation that scales and modes are the same thing, and to call one a scale or a mode is just odd. Also you can argue that intonation doesn’t matter and tonality does, but that can be a symptom of perfect pitch. In that case C Ionian tuned to 430hz is always going to sound flat and dark to a perfect pitch listener, which goes further to say that relative harmonics sound less annoying and why it sounds brighter.

        Also if you took any musical piece that sounds bright and tuned it down by slowing the piece down on a tape machine is also an interesting experiment I could take another big long wall of text explaining.

        “The a minor third is not half the size of major third”

        I agree, I have no idea where you got that from. I didn’t compare the minor third to the major third.

        I compared the ‘beat’ of the major third to the root note. Then I compared the ‘beat’ of the minor third to the root note.

        The Major Third ‘Beat’ is 1/4 of the root.
        The Minor Third ‘Beat’ is 1/8.

        The formula is :
        “Root Note”-“Another Note”= ‘Beat’*-1
        ‘Beat’/”Root note”=”Harmonic relation based on intonation”

        The ‘beat’ is the difference of notes and the root note is the lowest note, just so we don’t get confused with tonic.

        1/1 sounds bright, and as you go down the harmonics it gets darker. You could call it subharmonics too, but the disharmonics are usually note a subharmonic in a practical way.

        I think C Major is brighter then anything else. I can prove it I got math, but there’s a point when brightness stops sounding bright, and just sounds normal, which is to say it’s not annoying which is what dark harmonics sound like. so the less annoying the brighter. BACKED WITH MATH.

        I could be wrong. Just ignore all of this, I am not a classically trained musician. What do I know about listening to music! I can’t play an instrument or read sheet music. Sheet music, that’s like being able to speak in a Shakespearian accent.

        Ignore this, I just wrote it down for my own records.

  5. “The brightest note of the brightest mode, Lydian, is the 11. Interestingly, that note is also the darkest note (the 5) of darkest mode, Locrian. How can that be?”

    The 11 note? Isn’t the 11th note the 4th note? Are we talking microtuning? You’re going over my head, you need to explain yourself! So the brightest note is the darkest note.

    Sorry, the 4 Locrian (aka 11) is more bright (aka majorness) then the 5 Dorian (aka 12) minorness.

    the difference of a minor is it’s just a flat major which is a lower pitch then the major so darkness for you IS a lower pitch, even though you say it isn’t If you played a double flattened second in a major triad it would sound darker then the minor triad. Or a double minored major triad.

    What makes minor sound darker then a major?! Explain!

    • I’ll do the rest of the work.

      the major triad 135 and the minor triad 1b35 I’ll look at again.

      In C Ionian the Major Triad 135 intonations in PURE semi tones in the tradition way is 1-5-8 or 1st-5th-8th

      This makes the 3 of the major triad a 5th of the 12 notes.

      This makes the 11 note of the Locrian scale the 1-6 which is 6th of the 12 notes. it’s the half octave. This is the brightest sound in your onion because it’s 1/2 the second strongest sub harmonic of the root, the first strongest harmonic being the 1/1 of the octave. Ironically this octave note is actually 1/2 the size of the root and the 6th semi tone is 1/4 the size.

      from the 6th semi tone down to the root, you get

      6 brightest
      5 major
      4 minor
      3 neutral
      2 darkest

      The perfect unison of the root note with the root note have no relation, it’s 1/1 and can be seen as bright, but it’s just the same note. A single note played by itself can never be said to be disharmonic or bright or dark. But dark is seen as annoying. Out of tuned instruments sound dark. Creepy old pianos. so the single note, without any other note played is arguably brightest.

      Now the 3rd semi tone up form the root is neutral sounding because the pentatonic use them because they’re not bright or dark. But if you look at the list minor is in the middle. Minor is actually not dark but neutral. The majority of our music is dominated by major chords so the minor seems dark only in relation to the amount of major chords we have heard. the Neutral 3rd is actually slightly dark.

      But then we have the subharmonic of the root note which is the octave up that plays into this comparison of light and dark. In relation to the subharmonic or the 13th semitone up from the 1st semi tone (the root note) it is 1/1.

      This relation of the of the 6th semi tone to the subharmonic of the 13th note is 1/2 just the same as it’s relation to the root note. This is why it sounds the brightest. It’s close to the root harmonic.

      The Locrian 11 (aka 4th)

      The 5th semi tone compared to the 13th is the same as the augmented 7th. It’s seen as having tension, but still a strong chord.

      The 4th semi compared to the 13th is different because it’s 2/3 and the minor of the 4th semi tone sound is 1/3 which gives it a weird balance. it’s not as simple, and has a really rich sound. A lot of people like the sound of the minor chord. It’s one of the most popular chords in pop music. It’s related to the same as the medieval rhythm of playing triplet notes with quarter notes. It has movement but isn’t filled with tension.

      The 3rd semi tone compared to the 13th is 3/4 and compared to the 1/4 you actually see less phase cancellation. The 4th has a bit because the 2/3 of the 4th to the 13th subharmonic causes slight phase cancellation and maybe why it sounds like it has movement but not tension, but the 1/4 to the 3/4 has less phase cancellation because of the distance between the notes, and there is less interaction with the subharmonic.

      The 2nd semi tone compared the the 13th is even more obvious of the less interaction with the sub harmonic. the 2nd semi tone is 2/12 or 1/6 and the 2nd compared to the 13th is 5/6 which is not really compatible for phase cancellation.

      The 2nd semi tone could be seen as the most disharmonic, since on any scale if you play to notes next to each other anywhere on any part of the keyboard even it will always sound totally off. 100%

      This isn’t dark as in ‘moody’ like the minor but dark as in full on dissonance.

      This isn’t like “rainy day” dark, but commonly used for “OH SHIT THERE’S THE KILLER IN THE HOUSE” sort of voicing. Something you’d see in a horror movie. If that is not the darkest of the dark I dunno what is.

      But you can go up the scale to the 7th semi tone, this is a diminished interval. It sounds dark when played with the minor interval as commonly done in the diminished triad. It’s relation to the 13th semi tone is actually a perfect fifth of the major triad. This makes it sound darker, because of the distancing from the root harmonics and closer tot he subharmonic. This moves the disharmonics from the 13th to the 1st. Thus the extra strength from the relation to the subharmonic weakens the bond to the root note. diminishing it’s strength. oooh. That’s not why they call it diminished interval, but it’s the reason it sounds that way.

      8th semi tones up, you got the sunrise motif from Thus Spoke Zarathustra as heard in Space Odessy 2001. Strong sounding. Infact the sunrise motif goes in c-g-c chords. After the 1st and 8th it goes to the 13th semi tone. This is because the 8th semi tone in relation to the 13th is a minor one. If the chords only went C-G and didn’t resolve to the upper octave it wouldn’t have that immense strength.

      The 8th semi tone is usually called the perfect fifth, it’s in almost every triad there is.

      yada yada yada. there’s more the 11th note sounds interesting in some uses, because it sort of becomes a root note being so far away, the same can be said with the 9th and 10th but the 11th really comes into it’s own, obviously. There’s more to it from there, but WALL OF TEXT


  6. […] from C, which indicates that they are bright sounding notes relative to C. (See my post about brightness & darkness.) Hence the majorness of the […]

  7. Anthony D'Agostino says:

    I think this is a great way to look at modes. For me, the greater number of ways I can look at a map of musical experiences, the greater my ability to recall them later and use them expressively. Have you encountered any material where individuals arrange the Harmonic Minor & Melodic Minor modes from light to dark? I guess you could arrange the different qualities of seventh chords like this also.

    • Great question. The harmonic minor & melodic minor are a bit trickier to talk about in terms of brightness/darkness because they have less tonal focus than the modes of the major scale. (For instance, they each contain not one but two tritone pairs, which are pairs of notes at opposite ends of the light/dark spectrum.) But I suggest you take a look at them and give it a shot—it’ll be informative!

Leave a Reply