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Chromatic Vs Diatonic

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#1 mcm


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Posted 05 January 2006 - 02:07 PM

can someone please explain in layman's terms the diff between chromatic and diatonic

thank you

#2 Richard Morse

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 03:43 PM

With regards to Western music, chromatic refers to having a scale (series of notes or tones per octave) containing 12 tones. The interval between them is called a "semitone" (I know that sounds confusion, but that's just the way it is). An instrument that is fully chromatic can play in any key and in any mode (how easily it can do that is another matter...).

Diatonic refers to having a scale of only the seven "standard" tones. The intervals between these tones consists of 5 (full or whole) tones and 2 semitones (the order in which you you do these in results in the various musical modes). An instrument that is limited to a single diatonic key can play an amazingly large percentage of traditional dance tunes. And many diatonic instruments can play in several diatonic keys.

Most Western tunes are diatonic in nature though many will often use some chromatic notes from time to time.

#3 Morgana


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Posted 06 January 2006 - 03:48 AM

In addition to Richard's excellent reply...

Chromatic is all the keys on a piano [Black and white]..

Diatonic is just the white keys. [Do ray me so fa la te do].

Simplistic yes, but it's always helped me remember. :)


#4 David Barnert

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 08:33 AM

I suppose we should also mention here definitions that are commonly used among squeezebox players although they are not really "correct."

Instruments that play the same note in and out are sometimes called "chromatic," while instruments that play different notes in and out are sometimes called "diatonic." If you think about it, this is because instruments that play the same note in and out are usually set up to include all the notes of the chromatic scale while instruments that play different notes in and out are generally tuned to diatonic scales, although many of them contain more than one diatonic scale and enough extra accidental notes to be able to play chromatically.

But it is not the in-out property itself that determines whether the instrument is chromatic or diatonic.

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