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In George Russell's The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, he introduces the notion of "horizontal scales":

They are horizontal because they include the fourth degree in their structure (B♭ in the F Lydian Chromatic Scale). (p. 17)

This is in contrast to vertical scales, which include the Lydian B♮.

But my question is how he derives the four horizontal scales, which are:

  1. F major: F G A B♭ C D E
  2. F major flat seventh: F G A B♭ C D E♭
  3. F major augmented fifth: F G A B♭ C♮ C♯ D E
  4. F Lydian flat seventh: F (G) A♭ A♮ B♭ B♮ C D E♭ (E)

As far as I can tell, there is no explanation for how these scales are formed, which seems really odd for someone basing his entire theory on the acoustical properties of the harmonic series.

How are these scales formed? Frankly, it almost seems as if (especially in the final scale) he just threw some darts at a board until he decided he was done creating his scale.

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  • I’m glad you’re asking because I’ve also had questions about that book. I wonder if there’s at least some amount of learning to improvise by ear over common jazz chord progressions is part of where the scales are from, at least from the authors perspective. Aug 12, 2021 at 16:16
  • Without being familiar with this concept as a whole the best I can figure is horizontal scales contain a P4 instead of a #4. As for that final scale, i saw a source that calls it the “African American Blues Scale”. It’s not as random as it appears, it is basically what is commonly referred to as the blues scale, a minor pentatonic with a #4/b5 chromatic passing tone with a major pentatonic scale superimposed over it. Without knowing this was in his book I have always felt like this actually is the complete blues scale because it contains the elements of both major and minor tonalities. Aug 12, 2021 at 17:11
  • …although the E natural is not included in my description it allows double chromatic approaches to the tonic amd is also the leading tone. BTW, why are there parentheses on the G and E? Aug 12, 2021 at 17:14
  • @JohnBelzaguy He also calls this the "African-American Blues Scale," but I don't believe he explains the parentheses. But even though this scale has a name, my question is ultimately: why this scale? Why not any other scales that have that perfect fourth scale degree?
    – Richard
    Aug 12, 2021 at 17:24
  • Actually I saw that name in an online “Cliff Note” explanation of his concept. I haven’t read the book although I probably unknowingly apply some of its concepts to my playing from other things I’ve learned. This is the article I read: thejazzpianosite.com/jazz-piano-lessons/modern-jazz-theory/… There is no explanation on how he arrived at these scales, only that there is a hierarchy for using them from consonance to dissonance over a given chord. Aug 12, 2021 at 18:46

2 Answers 2

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As explained by him. Vertical gravity has to do with the gravitational pull of harmony (within chords) while the horizontal gravity has to do with the gravitational pull of melody. Here he is talking about it:

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  • 1
    Can you explain the gravitational pull concept a bit? What is pulled by what to where? In what circumstances can this pull be observed, how? What kind of an experiment can I do to notice the existence of this alleged phenomenon? Physical gravity is quite easily demonstrated in practice. Feb 20, 2022 at 12:16
  • I don't know to be honest... Found the video and thought to share Feb 20, 2022 at 16:41
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica In theory, the even intervals, 2nds, 4ths and to a lesser degree 6ths, are unstable and typically resolved downward. This is most likely what he is calling 'gravity'. This is true for pure major an minor scales, but if those degrees are sharpened, they will normally act as upward leading tones. There are exceptions to that, as an augmented 4th is resolved downward fairly frequently.
    – yamex5
    Apr 13, 2022 at 7:12
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    @user3235 Ok thanks, that seems to make some sense. Though I don't particularly like the way these "resolving tendencies" are explained as if they were some kind of laws of nature, when it all depends on this one culture and practice where movements like that are done so often that composers, players, listeners take them for granted. There are other cultures and conventions and practices. Apr 13, 2022 at 10:21
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica I'm not sure what to tell you. I grew up in the U.S. and studied Western music theory, the same as Russell, and that has been the prevailing theory in Western music for the last 700 years or so. Also, please keep in mind that only Western music dealt with polyphony, so there were no other music theories that needed to address the concept of dissonance.
    – yamex5
    Apr 13, 2022 at 14:20
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  1. The first scale is just the standard F major scale:

    F G A B♭ C D E F

The reason the standard F major scale is used over the lydian mode for horizontal playing is that the B♮, unless resolved upwards, can sound out of place against other chords in the key.

  1. Russell's F major flat seventh 'scale' is the mixolydian mode relative to Bb. In the key of B♭, the seventh degree is F. The seventh chord built off of F in Bb consists of F A C Eb, and so the most consonant scale choice will use E♭ instead of E♮.

    B♭ C D Eb F G A B♭ C D E♭ F G A B♭

  2. The F major augmented fifth scale is a bit peculiar for a couple of reasons.

    F G A B♭ C♮ C♯ D E

Clearly, the C♯ is is going to fit better with chords with a raised 5th.

Something that is obvious but should be stated is that a scale or mode to be played over a chord or sequence of chords depends upon the specific chords and how dissonant your soloing is intended to be.

The first peculiarity for me is that while plain augmented triads, and less rarely, augmented major seventh chords are used in jazz, the most common variety of chords with augmented 5ths found are dominant (flatted) sevenths. The second peculiarity is that Russell has a chromatic progression in the scale between the C♮ and D♮. I assume that he intended this scale to sound 'bluesy'.

Since most augmented chords are also dominant 7ths, and that contiguous chromatic notes tend to "stick out", a more practical scale for dominants with raised 5ths might be the ascending melodic minor beginning from the 4th degree. This contains the root, major 3rd, augmented 5th and flatted 7th, without any contiguous successions of minor 2nds.

C D Eb F G A B C D E♭ F G A B C

Another alternative to the F major augmented fifth scale is a whole tone scale starting from F.

  1. The lydian flat seventh scale.

    F (G) Ab A Bb B C D Eb (E)

As others have correctly pointed out, Russell is just listing the most commonly used tones played to create a 'blues' sound.

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