Ionian Mode: The Perfect Major Scale

In my last article, I eluded to the “Equal Temperament Piano”. Well, today I would like to explain a little more about the evolution of scales and the keyboard system which go hand in hand.

Back thousands of years ago apparently the Greeks developed what we call today the “Major Scale”. They called it the “Ionian Mode”. The only reference to pitches they had was what they heard in their heads.

Since the only easily tunable object was some early form of the harp, they probably tightened and loosened the tension of the strings in sequence to produce what they heard. This became the ionian mode.

The ionian is an eight note scale including the root and its octave. It is made up of whole and half steps. However the concept of intervals probably wasn’t a contributing factor. It just sounded pleasing. By itself it is easy to tune it perfectly but only one pitch, the root can be what we call “Do”. The only other scales derived from that set of notes were also called modes; dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian, and locrian.

The other pitches would become tonal centers. The dorian or II- (two minor) is very common and one of the building blocks of modern jazz!

Moving on down the musical road in history, someone realized that the space between 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7 were greater than 3-4 and 7-8. So they split the larger intervals in half. What transpired was the birth of the “Chromatic Scale”.

Here’s where the “fit hit the shan”. Nothing aesthetically sounded pleasing to the listening ear. Remember, the greeks already had the perfect ionian scale!

In ALL keyboard instruments, I’m guessing, of the last five centuries, instrument makers had to sacrifice the perfect scale a hrz or two (waves per second) on more than one note in the twelve half steps of the chromatic scale. In the end, all keyboards are equally deviant (unfortunately some pianos more than others, subject to maintenance).

Since we all have grown up hearing this “equal temperament system”, we just accept what we hear because we have nothing better to compare it to. But the ability to make any note on a keyboard “Do” and palatable has been remedied!