Shí-èr-lǜ on C.  Play 

Shí-èr-lǜ (Chinese: 十二, [ʂɻ̩̌.âɚ̯ lŷ], 12 pitches) (twelve-pitch scale) is a standardized gamut of twelve notes.[1] Also known, rather misleadingly, as the Chinese chromatic scale, it is one kind of chromatic scale used in ancient Chinese music. The Chinese scale uses the same intervals as the Pythagorean scale, based on 2:3 ratios (8:9, 16:27, 64:81, etc.). The gamut or its subsets were used for tuning and are preserved in bells and pipes.[2]

However, "it should not be imagined that this gamut ever functioned as a scale, and it is erroneous to refer to the 'Chinese chromatic scale', as some Western writers have done. The series of twelve notes known as the twelve were simply a series of fundamental notes from which scales could be constructed."[3]

The first reference to, "the standardization of bells and pitch," dates back to around 600 BCE while the first description of the generation of the pitches dates back to around 240 CE.[3]

Note names

12 total, which fall within the scope of one octave. (Note that the mathematical method used by the ancient Chinese could never produce a true octave. No matter what is done with numbers involving 1/3, it is impossible to get to 1/2 or to 2.) The next higher frequency in the series of frequencies produced by the Chinese system would be higher than 880 hertz.

How the scales are produced. Start with a fundamental frequency. (440 hertz is used here.) Apply the ratios to make the first column. Copy the second and all further elements in this column to the respective heads of the other eleven columns. Apply the ratios to make the second through the twelfth columns. So doing produces 144 frequencies (with some duplications). From each column five different selections of non-adjacent frequencies can be made. (See the colored blocks at the far left.) So each column can produce five different pentatonic scales, and with all the columns involved there are 60 pentatonic scales available to musicians.

See the article by Chen Ying-shi.[4]

See also

Further reading


  1. Joseph C.Y. Chen (1996). Early Chinese Work in Natural Science: A Re-examination of the Physics of Motion, Acoustics, Astronomy and Scientific Thoughts, p. 96. ISBN 962-209-385-X.
  2. Chen (1996), p.97.
  3. 1 2 Needham, Joseph (1962/2004). Science and Civilization in China, Vol. IV: Physics and Physical Technology, p.170-171. ISBN 978-0-521-05802-5.
  4. 一种体系 两个系统 by 陈应时 (Yi zhong ti-xi, liang ge xi-tong by Chen Ying-shi of the Shanghai Conservatory), Musicology in China, 2002, Issue 4, 中国音乐学,2002,第四 期

External links

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