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date: 21 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The word “scale” in English today is used both by practicing musicians to denote musical exercises or runs, and by theorists to denote abstracted, ordered collections of pitches. Although these ideas are closely related, they also seem partially separable. Their fusion in conception and terminology is the legacy of Latin treatises on the gamut, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment empiricism (including an interest in what came to be called “comparative musicology”), and the rise of instrumental virtuosity in nineteenth-century Europe. This article discusses historical, theoretical, and psychological questions around concepts of “scale,” considering how etymological and cultural specifics interact with what appear to be hardwired cognitive tendencies, such as melodic movement by small intervals and the ordering of sets. Anglophone (and “Western”) ideas of scale, despite being products of historical happenstance, have parallels in most music.

Keywords: scale, mode, melodic motion, music cognition, comparative musicology, gamut, melodic formulas, theory and practice

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