chromatic chord

Some of the elements of the Chromatic System were known 200 years ago. The Diatonic scale, being called the "Natural scale," implied that the chromatic chords were consider to be artificial; but the notes of the chromatic chords, from their PROXIMITY to the notes of the tonic chord, fit to them like hand and glove. Nothing in music is more sweetly natural and pleasingly effective than such resolutions; and hence their extensive use in the hands of the Masters. The chromatic chords have close relations to the whole system of music, making the progressions of its harmonies easy and delectable, and producing effects often enchanting and elevating, as well as often subtle and profound; and while they are ever at hand at the call of the Composer, they are ever in loyal obedience to the laws of their own structure and system. When a diatonic chord precedes another diatonic chord belonging to the same scale, it has one note moving in semitonic progression;1 but when a chromatic chord precedes a diatonic chord, it may have three semitonic progressions.2 The primary chromatic chord resolves into 8 of the 24 diatonic tonic chords, with 3 semitonic progressions. These identical notes of the chromatic chord, with only some changes of names, resolve into another 8 of the 24 tonic chords, with 2 semitonic progressions and one note in common; and when they resolve into the third and last 8 of the 24 tonic chords, they move with one semitonic progression and 2 notes in common. So to the chromatic chord there are no foreign keys.3 And as it is with the first chromatic chord, so with the other two. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 51]

That some of the elements of the Chromatic System were known 200 years ago, but have been known so long without being formed into a system, shows that what was known and in use of chromatic chords had been found out from experience, and not from any knowledge of the laws which generate and constitute them. Without the knowledge of these laws they could not be explained; and this accounts for the entire want of order in everything which relates to them, and for the names which been applied to those which are in use, such as "the minor ninth," "the diminished seventh," "the extreme sharp second," etc. One chromatic chord has all these things in it, but it does [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 51]

not follow that these are their proper names. In the first chromatic chords, in its major form, B, D, F, A♭, G is supposed to be the root; and accordingly the interval from G to A♭ has been called "a minor ninth;" from B to A♭ "a diminished seventh;" and from A♭ to B "an extreme sharp second." These names will vanish like mist of the morning when the intervals so named are seen in the system to which they belong. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 52]

The triplet B, D, F, has been called the imperfect triad, because in it the two diatonic semitones, B-C and E-F, and the two minor thirds which they constitute, come together in this so-called imperfect fifth. But instead of deserving any name indicating imperfection, this most interesting triad is the Diatonic germ of the chromatic chord, and of the chromatic system of chords. Place this triad to precede the tonic chord of the key of C major, and there are two semitonic progressions. Place it to precede the tonic chord of the key of F# major, and there are three semitonic progressions. Again, if we place it to precede the tonic chord of the key of A minor, there are two semitonic progressions; but make it precede the tonic chord of E♭ minor, and there are three semitonic progressions. This shows that the chromatic chord has its germ in, and its outgrowth from the so-called "natural notes," that is notes without flats or sharps, notes with white keys; and that these natural notes furnish, with only the addition of either A♭ from the major scale or G# from the minor, a full chromatic chord for one major and one minor chord, and a secondary chromatic chord for one more in each mode. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 52]

The dominant seventh, G, B, D, F, a 4-note chord,1 only requires that the root G be made sharp, which will make G#-B a minor third agreeably with the structure of the other two intervals, B-D and E-F. The chromatic chord only differs from the dominant seventh in that it is wholly of minor thirds. There are four notes in a chromatic chord, but only three of them move by semitonic progression to a tonic chord. When these three notes thus move to a major chord, one is upward to the root, a second downward to the top, and the third downward also to the middle. The relative minor being a minor third below [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 52]

In the laws of quantities and motions the three primary ratios, 1:2, 1:3, 1:5, with the three different units, F1, C3, and G9, the roots of the chords of the subdominant, tonic, and dominant, produce the three chords of the musical system major, the one not interfering with the other; and by an inverse process are produced, from B720, E240, and A80, its generating notes, the three chords of the musical system minor; the one chord not interfering with the other. In a similar way the chromatic chords can be produced from three different units, without the one interfering with the other; and, like the subdominant, tonic, and dominant chords of the diatonic scale, they are fifths apart. So we may call them the subdominant, tonic, and dominant chromatic chords. Each of the three chromatic chords has also kinship with the major and minor modes, from the way in which the diatonic minor triad is constituted a chromatic chord by its supplement coming in the one side from the minor, and on the other side from the major system. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 53]

But, as the subdominant sixth and dominant seventh suggest that the chromatic chord should be a 4-note chord, we must find out how Nature completes this diatonic chromatic triad and makes it a 4-note chord, and that according to its own intrinsic character as of minor thirds. Nature has always a rationale in her operations which it is ever delightful to discover. Wedged in between the minor dominant and the major subdominant, this triad, B D F, has already B, the top of the dominant minor, for its root; and F, the root of the subdominant major, for its top; and its middle is the mysterious D which, in its two positions as root of the minor subdominant and top of the major dominant, stands at the two extremes of the whole twofold diatonic key, bounding and embracing all; and which in its two degrees as D26 2/3 and D27 claims kindred with both minor and major modes of the twofold key system. Surely this Janus-faced D, looking this way toward the minor and that way to the major, seems to say, "the complement of this chord, of which I am the heart, is not far to seek nor hard to find on either side." It has already B in common with the minor dominant; the very next step is to the middle of this chord, G. Roots and tops of chords may not be altered, but middles may with impunity be flattened or sharpened as occasion may require. No two of them in succession in the chord-scale have the same structure; the chromatic triad, in claiming this middle, claims it sharpened, for it must have [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 54]

a minor third. So by adding the middle of the minor dominant, G, but made G#, that the third so produced may be a minor third, according to the nature of the chromatic chords, we have on this minor side of the chord G#, B, D, F, which we may call its minor form, inasmuch as the semitone of its second minor third is the one, B-C, which genetically arises in the minor genesis; and inasmuch as it has also received its supplemental G# from the minor dominant. How shall we find its complement on the other side? We have seen that D, the Janus-faced center of this triad, B, D, F, looks, as D27, toward the major also; it has already F in common with the major subdominant. The very next step is to the middle of this chord, A. Middles, we have just seen, are ever ready to accommodate themselves; and this minor third triad claims that A be flattened, for on this side also, though its major side, it must have a minor third; so by adding the middle of the major subdominant, A, but made A♭, according to the nature of chromatic intervals, that this F-A♭ also may be a minor third; and now we have it as B, D, F, A♭, which we may call its major form, inasmuch as the semitone of its minor third, E-F, is the one which genetically arises in the major genesis, and inasmuch as it has now received its supplemental A♭ from the major subdominant. This, then, is the chromatic chord in its native place, and in its native constitution; a 4-note chord, wholly of the minor thirds. It will be observed that it has now, in its two forms, divided the octave into minor thirds - 4 minor thirds, so it is very much at home anywhere in the octave; indeed it is at home everywhere - G#, B, D, F, A♭. And as every diatonic common chord in music is constituted of materials found in the octave of notes, it cannot be far from a chromatic chord in some one of its forms. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 55]

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In the above line it will be readily observed that these three chromatic chords, having each of their intervals a minor third, involve, as necessary elements of their build, every one of the twelve semitones at one point or another of the line. This is a second witness to the legitimacy of the chromatic scale of twelve semitones. We have our first witness to the same in the evolution of the semitones progressively in the course of the modulations by which, in growth-like continuity, Nature links the successive keys; whether developed upward, as is the natural way of the majors; or downward, as in the natural way of the minors; or half upward and half downward, which is an expedient in order to simplify the signatures. In whichever direction the modulation is effected, one note is always divided, and must, true to Nature, be signified by placing a sharp or a , as the case may be, to the 4-comma altered interval, and this always leaves a 5-comma interval to occupy the place to which Nature has assigned such interval in the original scale. When this operation has been twelve times performed, we have the chromatic scale of twelve semitones. Thus by two witnesses the thing is established. By further examination of these chromatic chords we find other interesting features beside their witness to the twelve semitones of the octave. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 56]

By taking four minor thirds upward from G# or downward from A♭, we have the first chromatic chord in its twofold form. Its central note is D, the top of the dominant major, and the root of the subdominant minor, being its own dual, that is to say, its minor birth being dual to its major birth.1 On the keyboard it has the same order of keys above it and below it; this dual D [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 56]

being also the center of the diatonic triplet, B, D, F, which is the diatonic germ of the chromatic system. Four minor thirds upward or downward from C# we have a second chromatic chord, its central note being G. The dual1 of C# is E♭; and there is the same order of keys on the keyboard2 below C# as there is above E♭. Four minor thirds from E♭ upward or downward forms a third chromatic chord, the central note of which is A. The dual A, the center of the third chromatic, is G, the center of the second; and these two notes, by their duality, and by the duality of the two chords throughout, balance each other exactly on the keyboard on either side of the first chromatic chord, which contains all its own duals, and by this self-duality sits in the center, like the tonic chord among the diatonic three. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 57]

The CHROMATIC SYSTEM of chords is developed from these three primitive chromatic chords, and in the course of its development one or two notes are brought in semitonic progression to the middle, one or two to the root, and one or two to the top of all major and minor tonic chords. Likewise, at one time or another in the course of the system, there is one note in common with the middle, one note in common with the root, and one note in common with the top of all the major and minor tonic chords. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 57]

The notes of each primitive chromatic chord are all different from the notes of the other two, so that there is no mistaking of the one for the other; any one note decides the chromatic chord to which it belongs. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 57]

It is the function of the chromatic chord, in the course of its systematic development, to bring two notes, the one above and the other below, in semitonic progression to each of the three notes of the tonic chord; and likewise, without interfering with the imperial character of the tonic chord, it brings two notes in semitonic progression to each note of the other two chords; so that, although at first the subdominant and dominant chords are only like satellites to the tonic chord, they, with their chromatic chords, are now raised to the dignity of planets as it were, having the chromatic chords as their satellites. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 57]

The chord-scales may be either major or minor, or may be found in a sweetly mingled condition; a piece may be wholly major or wholly minor, but not wholly chromatic. Chromatic chords do not usually succeed each other, but come into diatonic compositions for the purpose of producing certain effects peculiar to them, or by solving difficulties which may arise in composition. They are used as musical condiments to spice or sweeten a passage; but nobody makes pudding all of spice or sugar. The structure, character, and progression of the various chord-scales will be found so amply set forth in several parts of this work that it is not necessary to enlarge further in this place. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 69]

The Chromatic Scale is naturally the last to come into view, for it is not generated by a mathematical process at all. Chromatic intervals are indeed found in the scale as mathematically generated. The semitones between B-C and E-F are two chromatic intervals, and the chord which occurs between the major and the minor in the chord-scale when it begins with the minor mode is a chromatic chord, though in an uncompleted condition. But the making of the octave into a chromatic scale of twelve small or semi-tones, is the work of modulation from one key to another through the whole twelve keys in either the major or minor sphere; and this process is fully set forth in the pre-note to the chromatic treatise. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 69]

The number of Chromatic Chords. Three chromatic chords exhaust the semitonic 12-foldness of the octave. The chromatic scale is a much more even thing than the diatonic; contrast is not its feature, and we may expect [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 72]

less variety of effect than we find in the diatonic chords; for although these chords may appear with their notes diversely named, there are still only the three. On account of their cosmopolitan character they need, and they have, no compounding with anything else. They are themselves at home everywhere; like a universal joint, they can turn any way, and affiliate in all directions. Being 4-note chords, and all of minor thirds, their effect is always minor, and they fall with loving softness to the diatonic chords to which they resolve. How this chord in its germ is found in the diatonic chord-scale; how it becomes a 4-note chord of minor thirds; how it variously resolves, each one of the three, in three manners with 24 tonic chords - all this is so fully set forth in the pre-note and treatise on the chromatic chord that it need not be more discussed in this place. See also Plates XVI., XVII., XVIII., XIX., and XX. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 73]

The intervening chord between the Diatonic and Chromatic systems, B, D, F. - This chord, which has suffered expatriation from the society of perfect chords, is nevertheless as perfect in its own place and way as any. From its peculiar relation to both major and minor, and to both diatonic and chromatic things, it is a specially interesting triad. F, which is the genetic root of all, and distinctively the root of major subdominant, has here come to the top by the prime 2. D, here in the middle, is diatonically the top of the major dominant, and the root of the minor subdominant; and on account of its self-duality, the most interesting note of all; begotten in the great genesis by the prime 3. B, the last-begotten in the diatonic genesis, top of the diatonic minor, middle of the dominant major, and begotten by the prime 5, is here the quasi root of this triad, which in view of all this is a remarkable summation of things. This B, D, F is the mors janua vitae in music, for it is in a manner the death of diatonic chords, being neither a perfect major nor a perfect minor chord; yet it is the birth and life of the chromatic phase of music. In attracting and assimilating to itself the elements by which it becomes a full chromatic chord, it gives the minor dominant the G# which we so often see in use, and never see explained; and it gives the major subdominant a corresponding A♭, less frequently used. It is quite clear that this chromatic chord in either its major phase as B, D, F, A♭, or its minor phase as G#, B, D, F, is as natural and legitimate in music as anything else; and like the diatonic chords, major and minor, it is one of three, exactly like itself, into which the octave of semitones is perfectly divided. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 101]

Here on the keyboard we see, nearest to the front, the great 3-times-3 chord of the full genesis of the scale from F1 to F64. When this chord is struck by the notched lath represented in front of the keyboard, the whole harmony of the key is heard at once. Behind this great chord are placed, to the left the subdominant, tonic, and dominant chords of the minor. D F A, A E C, E G B; and to the right the subdominant, tonic, and dominant chords of the major, F A C, C E G, G B D. When the notched lath is shifted from F to D, the minor third below F, and the 3-times-3 minor is struck down in the same way as the major, the whole harmony is heard; and the complete contrast of effect between major and minor harmony can be fully pronounced to the ear by this means. Behind these six diatonic chords, major and minor, on the part of the keyboard nearest to the black keys, are the three chromatic chords in their four-foldness, in both major and minor form. The center one shows the diatonic germ of the chromatic chord, with its supplement of G# on the one hand completing its minor form, and its supplement of A♭ on the other hand completing its major form. A great deal of teaching may be illustrated by this plate.

ERRATUM. - B♭, first chromatic chord, misplaced.
[Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 104]


One purpose of this plate is to show that twelve times the interval of a fifth divides the octave into twelve semitones; and each of these twelve notes is the first note of a major and a minor scale. When the same note has two names, the one has sharps and the other has flats. The number of sharps and flats taken together is always twelve. In this plate will also be observed an exhibition of the omnipresence of the chromatic chords among the twice twelve scales. The staff in the center of the plate is also used as to show the whole 24 scales. Going from the major end, the winding line, advancing by fifths, goes through all the twelve keys notes; but in order to keep all within the staff, a double expedient is resorted to. Instead of starting from C0, the line starts from the subdominant F0, that is, one key lower, and then following the line we have C1, G2, etc., B6 proceeds to G♭ instead of F#, but the signature-number continues still to indicate as if the keys went on in sharps up to F12, where the winding line ends. Going from the minor end, the line starts from E0 instead of A0 - that is, it starts from the dominant of A0, or one key in advance. Then following the line we have B1, F#2, etc. When we come to D#5, we proceed to B♭ instead of A#6, but the signature-number continues as if still in sharps up [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 114]

In the festoons of ellipses the signatures are given in the usual conventional way, the major F having one flat and minor E having one sharp. The major and minor keys start from these respective points, and each successive semitone is made a new keynote of a major and a minor respectively; and each ellipse in the festoons having the key shown in its two forms; for example, in the major F, one flat, or E#, eleven sharps; in the minor E, one sharp, or F♭, eleven flats. Thus is seen all the various ways that notes may be named. The four minor thirds which divide the octave may be followed from an ellipse by the curved lines on which the ellipses are hung; and these four always constitute a chromatic chord. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 115]


The middle portion with the zigzag and perpendicular lines are the chromatic chords, as it were arpeggio'd. They are shown 5-fold, and have their major form from the right side, and their minor form from the left. In the column on the right they are seen in resolution, in their primary and fullest manner, with the 12 minors. The reason why there are 13 scales, though called the 12, is that F# is one scale and G♭ another on the major side; and D# and E♭ separated the same way on the minor side. Twelve, however, is the natural number for the mathematical scales as well as the tempered ones. But as the mathematical scales roll on in cycles, F# is mathematically the first of a new cycle, and all the notes of the scale of F# are a comma and the apotome minor higher than G♭. And so also it is on the minor side, D# is a comma and the apotome higher than E♭. These two thirteenth keys are therefore simply a repetition of the two first; a fourteenth would be a repetition of the second; and so on all through till a second cycle of twelve would be completed; and the thirteenth to it would be just the first of a third cycle a comma and the apotome minor higher than the second, and so on ad infinitum. In the tempered scales F# and G♭ on the major side are made one; and D# and E♭ on the minor side the same; and the circle of the twelve is closed. This is the explanation of the thirteen in any of the plates being called twelve. The perpendicular lines join identical notes with diverse names. The zigzag lines thread the rising Fifths which constitute the chromatic chords under diverse names, and these chords are then seen in stave-notation, or the major and minor sides opposites. The system of the Secondary and Tertiary manner of resolution might be shown in the same way, thus exhibiting 72 resolutions into Tonic chords. But the Chromatic chord can also be used to resolve to the Subdominant and Dominant chords of each of these 24 keys, which will exhibit 48 more chromatic resolutions; and resolving into the 48 chords in the primary, secondary, and tertiary manners, will make 144 resolutions, which with 72 above make 216 resolutions. These have been worked out by our author in the Common Notation, in a variety of positions and inversions, and may be published, perhaps, in a second edition of this work, or in a practical work by themselves. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 115]


These two plates show the chromatic chord resolving into the twelve major and twelve minor tonic chords of the twenty-four scales. There seems to be twenty-five, but that arises from making G♭ and F# in the major two scales, whereas they are really only one; and the same in the minor series, E♭ and D# are really one scale. C in the major and A in the minor, which occur in the middle of the series, when both sharps and flats are employed in the signatures, are placed below and outside of the circular stave to give them prominence as the types of the scale; and the first chromatic chord is seen with them in its major and minor form, and its typical manner of resolving - the major form rising to the root, and falling to the top and middle; the minor form falling to the top, and rising to the root and middle. The signatures of the keys are given under the stave. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 116]


This is an illustration of the chromatic chord resolving by two semitonic progressions and one note in common into four key-notes, which are shown in different positions and inversions; for example F A C F, A C F A, C F A C. Like a universal joint, the chromatic chord turns to each in a suitable form for resolution. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 116]

This plate illustrates how the chromatic chord resolves into four key-notes, in different positions, by one semitonic progression and two notes in common; for example, G B D G, B D G B, D G B D. In a pianissimo and slow passage this resolution has a subtle, soft effect; like a snake in the grass. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 116]


In the three open columns are the three chromatic chords. In the close columns are the same chromatic chords, with the same designations, on the left. The middle row of letters are the chords of the major keys; the letter with the figure being the key note. The right hand row of letters are the chords of the minor keys marked in the same way. The artist will have no difficulty in making use of the other resolutions of this abundant store; but the young student should make similar tables of the other manners of resolution; he will find abundant help for this in other parts of this work. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 119]

Fig. 4 is a setting of the minor and the major chord-scales, showing how they stand linked by notes in common in their direct sequence from dominant minor to dominant major. To each of the six chords is placed the first chromatic chord, showing how it resolves in its three-fold manner by 1, 2, and 3 semitonic progressions in each mode, and by 1 and 2 notes in common variously in each mode; and here again the law of duality is seen in its always symmetrical adjustments. Duality, when once clearly and familiarly come into possession of musicians, will be sure to become an operative rule and test-agent in composition. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 121]

See Also

3-note Chromatic chord
Ramsay - Three Chromatic Chords
Ramsay - How the Diatonic Germ becomes a 4-Note Chord

Created by Dale Pond. Last Modification: Thursday January 7, 2021 03:17:23 MST by Dale Pond.