I've been wanting to ask about the development of the Ancient Greek scales into the modern modes, but I keep putting-off the research that I feel would be necessary to make a really good question. There is this recent question which really doesn't get into what I consider the interesting stuff. Like what are the specific scales that Aristotle is complaining about the The Republic, the "bad" ones?

The pivotal figure in this mystery appears to be Beothius, author of a trilogy on music (Music of the Spheres, Instrumental Music, Music within the Human Body). It is Boethius who gave our modern names to these scales, but it's commonly regarded that he didn't mean the same things that Plato and Aristotle were talking about. And my alibris search has failed these last 10 years to turn up any English translations of these works (or even an affordable facsimile/transcription of the Greek).

There are just so many, many partial results and speculations and weird tangents that whenever I set out to nail down a specific question that I might post here, I just get inundated by the material I find, and can't seem to filter-out the truth for lack of ... energy, discipline, something-else?

How can I make a good, answerable question out of this mess?

  • Any improvements I can make to this question? Jul 14 '13 at 2:08
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    I don't know who downvoted, but if you want to see this question improved, you're going to have explain your downvote via a comment. Jul 14 '13 at 2:17
  • There are French, Latin, and German translations of Boethius' works on music available through archive.org May 18 '15 at 7:54

In the interim, I've decided to make use of the Bounty mechanism to exploit the existing question.

  • Although I did work hard on my answer I feel I received way too much bounty reputation from you. How can I return it to you? Should I put a bounty on a question answered by you? (Or is that an illegal or bad thing to do?) Aug 17 '13 at 7:30
  • Let's hope some knowledgeable music historians joins music.SE that can tackle further questions on the subject. Aug 17 '13 at 7:37
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    I was a little disappointed that more answers didn't come; but your answer is truly excellent, and I think it deserves the bounty it got. So, no need to repay me. ... But if you think it's too much, you could offer a bounty on some new questions that need attention. ... Until we get out of beta, I don't really need more rep; 4000 is the top bracket. Aug 17 '13 at 8:29

It is an important topic of study, based on one of the answers from that question I've been able to finally understand the concept of a Tetrachord, and used the idea to make a few custom scales!

I started thinking about it again when I saw a tratise by Messien on his musical language. he talks about the imposition of playing the scales in a certain order, so it was more complex to use the original modes than to simply play with the notes, much like the imposed rules of counterpoint that came in later.

I think to tackle it we need to split it into the history, the theory and the practice. That question gave me a great theoretical approach, but I still can't practically play what we thought an original dorian, phrygian or Ionian mode is.

Another area that this might link to is non- even tempered systems, like in places where the octave is not divided into 12 notes, but other numbers.

A tag for non even-tempered scales would definitely come in useful.

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