chromatic system

Twelve divisions in the Octave serve all the purposes of music. This is the master-stroke of Nature in putting so much into seemingly so little. Twelve is the most genial of all numbers; it is nature's representative of the social order in music. It is the manifold divisibility of twelve which makes the chromatic system in music possible. The equalized scale of twelve semitones in the octave and the chromatic system of music are indissolubly connected. With this the scale of mathematical intonation has neither part nor lot.
The life-force of the notes from the law of position gives them a versatility which they could never have had from fixed ratios, however numerous. If the interval of the octave be excepted, there are no two notes together in a chord, nor succeeding each other in the octave scale, having the same amount of specific levity or gravity; consequently each note has an expression and [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 35]


Nature has not finished when she has given us the Diatonic Scale of notes as first generated. In the diatonic scale, in ascending from C, the root of the tonic, the first step is an interval of 9 commas, supposing that we adopt the common division of the octave into 53 commas, which is the nearest practical measuring rule; the second step has 8 commas; the third has 5; the fourth has 9; the fifth has 8; the sixth has 9; and the seventh and last has 5 commas. So we have three steps of 9 commas, two steps of 8, and two of 5. The order of the steps in the major is 9, 8, 5, 9, 8, 9, 5. In the minor the magnitudes are the same, but the order is 9, 5, 8, 9, 5, 9, 8. So there are three magnitudes.1 But Nature has an equalizing process in the course of her musical marshallings, in which these greater ones get cut down, and have to change places with the lesser, when her purpose requires them so to do. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 47]

This subtracting and adding process of Nature by which she so freely handles the notes is the way she gives us the materials of the Chromatic Scale, in which an entirely new series of chords with strikingly different effects, and with exceedingly interesting, subtle, and at the same time easy progressions, is put in possession of the practical musician. This new series of chords forms, in fact, materials for the Chromatic System, which D. C. Ramsay has discovered, and which he has elaborated, as his custom was, exhaustively - his last labor in the interests of music science and art. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 48]

In the following treatise of our author Nature will be found beckoning us toward the Chromatic in an exceedingly interesting way; and the exhibition of the Chromatic as a system, and an exceedingly important system, of chords and progressions is a monument to the genius of D. C. Ramsay. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 49]

It has been found impossible in this first edition of his work to publish in extenso the musical elaboration of the Chromatic system through all its forms and progressions; this would make the volume fully twice the size it is. We must be content meanwhile to publish the musical doctrines of Ramsay, with illustrations, and leave the music for a further edition and a future time. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 49]

[Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 50]

There are two semitones in each system, B-C and E-F. But when the notes of the two systems are being generated simultaneously, the two semitonic intervals originate separately. While the major is generating the semitone E-F, the third and fourth of the major scale, the minor is generating the semitone B-C, the second and third of the minor scale. So E-F is the semitone which belongs genetically to the major, and B-C to the minor.1 These two semitones are the two roots of
and they are found together in what has been called the "Minor Triad," and by other names, namely, B-D-F. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 50]

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]

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]

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 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]

See Also

Chromatic Scale
Plate II. - The Genesis of the Scales.

Created by Dale Pond. Last Modification: Friday December 18, 2020 04:27:26 MST by Dale Pond.