The Minor Third
Here’s an interesting and perhaps misunderstood note.
It’s a compound move on the lattice: down a third and up a fifth. Or up a fifth and down a third, it doesn’t matter what order. So the ratio is 3/5, or 6/5, octave reduced. The note is the minor third. I call it b3.
It lives a little bit flat of the major third — much less than an equal-tempered half step.
The closeness of major and minor, the small size of this particular half step, is one of the revelations I’ve had in the past couple of years. Major and minor are only about 2/3 of a semitone apart.
The difference between major and minor third is not so much one of pitch, but of polarity. The minor third contains reciprocal third energy and the major is overtonal third energy. A smile is just a frown turned upside down … Here’s an example that shows the reversal in polarity between major and minor third. This is untempered tuning. The pitch is moving by less than a piano key while dramatically shifting the harmonic ground.
I hear that same sort of “breathing” as in yesterday’s post — in, out, in, out.
I say “misunderstood,” because equal temperament changes the character of this note. Mathieu has a nice passage in Harmonic Experience:
When I first found my own voice inside a minor triad, I couldn’t believe it was so — well, so (arggh! I can scarcely say the dreaded word, but here goes) — so … happy. There. We are told from the beginning that minor is sad, the designated mode for angst and funerals. Well, to be honest, the equal-tempered version of the minor third is rather sad. [It] is too narrow, or flat. So piano minor is flat and sounds dull — the fire is out of it. But minor thirds in just intonation, and the minor triads they support, are swift and burning. They have the gypsy left in them, and do some leaping kind of dance.
– W.A. Mathieu, Harmonic Experience, p. 55
The gypsy really comes out to dance when it’s actual music, but to get an idea, here’s that same seesaw between minor and major. This time it’s tuned to equal temperament.
Is it my imagination, or do I hear a little melodrama here? Is the minor overly sad, the major a little over-the-top happy?
You may hear something entirely different. It is very interesting to go back and forth between these last two videos.