Have you ever been talking with another musician when they started speaking crazy jargon? You know, fancy music gibberish … unintelligible gobbledygook.
While it’s true that musicians are technically insane, there’s a method to the madness of our vocabulary. A perfect example is the word “tritone.” At first glance, it’s a strange and potentially confusing term. But with a quick explanation, it’s pretty simple to understand.
In the chromatic scale, every note is separated by two basic types of intervals – whole-tone intervals and semi-tone intervals. If you start at C, for example, the two notes on either side of this pitch are Db (moving up the scale) … and B (moving down the scale). Each of these notes is just one semi-tone interval away from C.
A whole-tone interval is just made up of two semi-tones. So the two notes that are spaced at whole-tone intervals from C are D (moving up in pitch) and Bb (moving down in pitch).
If you keep moving out and away from that central C note, you’ll pass through various intervals … like a semi-tone + a whole-tone in either direction … and two whole-tones in either direction … and so on.
And if you move up or down three whole-tones from C, you you’ll hit the same note – which goes by a couple of names: F#/Gb. Because this pitch is three whole-tones away, we call it the “tritone” … get it? Three (tri) whole-tones.
Because the note patterns in music are symmetrical, this interval is significant. A tonic note and its tritone are polar opposites, which means they are highly dissonant. And, as a result, they are rarely paired together in songs.
In ColorMusic, this special relationship is easy to see because the tonic and its tritone (in this case, C and F#/Gb) are complementary colors. But what’s really cool is that you can see this same complementary pattern for every key in the chromatic scale.
In other words, D and Ab are clearly tritones … as are Eb and A … E and Bb … F and B … etc. Whoa!
So if some fancy pants musician starts going on about “tritones,” you won’t get lost. Because you’ll know (and see!) exactly what it is they’re talking about.