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About Positive Music
by Don Robertson

Musical Scales

When music is played, the vibrations of the music effect all life in the vicinity. The effect that the music has will depend upon the way that the vibrations of the music are harmonically constructed. One of the factors that determines the effect of music is the particular musical scale from which the melody and harmonies are built. Different scales create different modes and emotions. The scales on which music is based are not an arbitrary creation of man; they are formed on very definite patterns that are the intrinsic to all nature.

During the late 1700’s, scientists began identifying certain chemical elements for the first time. In 1808, a scientist named John Dalton suggested that the atoms that make up matter were physical objects that had specific weights. In 1829, Johann Doebereinger demonstrated that particular elements could be arranged in groups of three, according to their weights. In each group of three, the elements had similar properties and the weight of the middle atom in the group was close to the average of the other two. These were said to be chemical equivalents to the musical "triad," the most basic chord in music. In 1864, a man named John A. Newlands grouped all of the known elements into the order of their atomic weights. He then divided these into groups of seven elements each. He demonstrated that when the atoms were put into order with their weights increasing, there was a pattern of repetition that was identical to the musical octave, the same found on the piano keyboard. When he talked to his fellow chemists of the time about this "law of octaves," they laughed at him.

In 1869, Mendeleev compiled another Periodic Table of the Elements. This table was arranged according to atomic weights and was based on Newlands’ work. Mendeleev found, as had Newlands, that the chemical properties of the elements reoccurred at definite intervals. He likewise concluded that these were the periodic functions of their atomic weights. According to Daniel Morris, in his article "Music of the New Spheres" in the December 1969 Chemistry Magazine, Mendeleev’s arrangement of the elements came to him while he was listening to a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Opus 44 (a wonderful piece of music, by the way). He was seated on a sofa, apparently mulling over Newland’s and Doebereinger’s arrangements of the elements, when all of a sudden he jumped up, sat at his desk, and arranged all of the elements in a more complete and final way than had Newlands. In his article, Morris wondered if the music of the quintet hadn't influenced Mendeleev's arrangement of the elements in the periodic table.

Mendeleev’s Chart of the elements now hangs in every high-school chemistry lab as a testimony to the endurance of his work. Comparing this chart and the musical octave, we can see the interrelationship that occurs between nature, in its material essence, and nature as sound and music.

The basic chord of music is called the triad. It provides the basic underpinnings of the seven-note scale: the scale of the octave. A triad can be demonstrated by playing a simple C major chord containing three notes: C, E, and G. The triad that Johann Doebereinger found in the relationships of atomic structures was based on a principal that he found to be similar to the principal of a musical triad. The musical triad also corresponds to the three primary colors of the color spectrum that can be seen when light is passed through a prism. These colors are red, yellow, and blue: the only three colors that cannot be created by combining other colors. Yes, there is a color octave also. The same patterns that are the basis of sound and music are also the basis of all nature. No wonder music has such a "sympathetic" effect.


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