Music theory can be quite a complex topic, but it’s an essential aspect of understanding how music works. One term that often comes up in discussions about music theory is “diatonic.” In this article, we will explore what the term “diatonic” means in music theory.
What does Diatonic Mean?
The term “diatonic” refers to the notes that belong to a given key. In Western music, we use a system of 12 notes that repeat at different pitches (octaves). These notes are named using the letters A through G, with sharps and flats modifying their pitch.
When we talk about diatonic notes in a key, we’re referring to the seven notes that make up the major or minor scale for that key. For example, if we’re in the key of C major, the seven diatonic notes are:
Diatonic vs. Chromatic
When we talk about diatonic notes, it’s helpful to contrast them with chromatic notes. Chromatic notes are any note outside of the seven diatonic notes in a given key. For example, if we’re in the key of C major, some examples of chromatic notes would be C# or Bb.
It’s worth noting that just because a note is chromatic doesn’t mean it can’t be used in a given piece of music. Chromaticism can add interest and variety to melodies and harmonies.
The Diatonic Scale
The diatonic scale is simply a sequence of seven consecutive diatonic notes within a particular key. There are two types of diatonic scales: major and minor.
The major diatonic scale follows the pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H): W-W-H-W-W-W-H. In the key of C major, this translates to the following sequence:
The minor diatonic scale follows a slightly different pattern: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. In the key of A minor, this translates to the following sequence:
In addition to notes and scales, we can also talk about diatonic chords. Diatonic chords are simply chords that use only the notes from a given key’s diatonic scale.
For example, in the key of C major, the seven diatonic chords are:
- C Major (C-E-G)
- D Minor (D-F-A)
- E Minor (E-G-B)
- F Major (F-A-C)
- G Major (G-B-D)
- A Minor (A-C-E)
- B Diminished (B-D-F)
The Importance of Diatonic Harmony
Understanding diatonic harmony is crucial for any musician or composer. By working within the constraints of a given key’s diatonic notes, we can create melodies and harmonies that sound cohesive and pleasing to the ear.
Additionally, exploring chromaticism and non-diatonic notes can add interest and variety to our music. But having a strong foundation in diatonic harmony is essential for any musician looking to explore more complex music theory concepts.
In summary, diatonic refers to the seven notes that make up a given key’s major or minor scale. Diatonic chords are chords that use only these seven notes. Understanding diatonic harmony is essential for any musician looking to improve their understanding of music theory and composition.