• Scale Formation: Casting Out The Devil In Music

    in Piano,Scales

    devil in music

    Today, we’ll be casting out the devil in music.

    In medieval times (400AD – 1400AD), the intervals of an augmented fourth or a diminished fifth were known as diabolus in musica. Translated to English, it means “the devil in music.”

    “What are augmented fourth and diminished fifth intervals?”

    An augmented fourth is larger than the perfect fourth by a semitone (half step). Using the major scale of C:

    …if we make the perfect fourth interval:

    ….larger by a semitone (half step):

    …this will produce the augmented fourth interval:

    A diminished fifth interval is smaller than the perfect fifth interval by a semitone (half step). Using the major scale of C:

    …if we make the perfect fifth interval:

    …smaller by a semitone (half step):

    …this will produce the diminished fifth interval.

    “Why are they called the ‘devil in music?’”

    Perfect intervals sound very pleasant and agreeable. They are described as consonant intervals because they have a sense of repose.

    Making them larger or smaller makes them sound unpleasant (dissonant).

    Augmented fourth vs perfect fourth

    The augmented fourth is dissonant because it is larger than the perfect fourth by a semitone (half step).

    Diminished fifth vs perfect fifth

    In the same vein, the diminished fifth is dissonant because it is smaller than the perfect fifth by a semitone (half step).

    These intervals consist of three adjacent whole tones (aka “whole steps”).

    An augmented fourth in the key of C:

    …consists of three adjacent whole tones:




    A distance of three tones in Latin means tritone.

    The “devil in music” is popularly known as the tritone. In medieval times, it was forbidden because of its extreme dissonance.

    In today’s post, we’ll be doing a little scale formation exercise by casting out the devil in music.

    I can’t wait anymore, let’s get started!

    Parallel Fourth Intervals

    An interval of a fourth consists of four scale steps.

    In the key of C major, we’ll be looking at fourth intervals from every degree of the major scale. Check them out below:

    Four scale steps from C is F:

    …C, D, E, and F:

    C to F is a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from D is G:

    …D, E, F, and G:

    D to G is a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from E is A:

    …E, F, G, and A:

    E to A is a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from F is B:

    …F, G, A, and B:

    F to B is an augmented fourth.

    Four scale steps from G is C:

    …G, A, B, and C:

    G to C is a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from A is D:

    …A, B, C, and D:

    A to D is a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from B is E:

    …B, C, D, and E:

    B to E is a perfect fourth.

    Moving in parallel fourths from one degree of the major scale to another will produce perfect fourth intervals, except on the fourth degree of the major scale:

    …where an augmented fifth is formed:

    It is worthy to note that when fourths are played in parallel, the augmented fourth interval (aka – “the devil in music”) is formed between the fourth and seventh tones of the scale:

    F and B.

    Parallel Fifth Intervals

    An interval of a fifth consists of five scale steps.

    We’ll be forming fifth intervals from every degree of the C major scale, just like we did in the last segment. Check them out below:

    Five scale steps from C is G:

    …C, D, E, F, and G:

    C to G is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from D is A:

    …D, E, F, G, and A:

    D to A is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from E is B:

    …E, F, G, A, and B:

    E to B is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from F is C:

    …F, G, A, B and C:

    F to C is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from G is D:

    …G, A, B, C, and D:

    G to D is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from A is E:

    …A, B, C, D, and E:

    A to E is a perfect fifth.

    Five scale steps from B is F:

    …B, C, D, E, and F:

    B to F is a diminished fifth.

    Moving in parallel fifths from one degree of the major scale to another will produce perfect fifth intervals, except on the seventh degree of the major scale:

    …where a diminished fifth is formed:

    When fifths are played in parallel, the diminished fifth interval (aka – “the devil in music”) is formed between the seventh and fourth tones:

    B and F.

    Consider this carefully…

    The augmented fourth and diminished fifth are equal in size, but differ in spelling.

    C augmented fourth interval:

    C diminished fifth interval:

    If you’re familiar with inversion of intervals, you’ll know that the inversion of an augmented fourth will produce a diminished fifth and vice versa.

    In the parallel fourths series, we encountered F-B:

    …an augmented fourth. Inverting it to B-F:

    …will produce the diminished fifth interval we encountered in the parallel fifth series.

    In the major scale of C, the devil in music, whether as an augmented fourth:

    …or diminished fifth:

    …is connected to the fourth and seventh degrees of the major scale (B and F respectively).

    Having said that, let’s get into the segment everyone’s been waiting for.

    Casting Out The Devil In Music

    The fourth and seventh tones in the major scale of C are:


    …and B:

    …and they are the devil in music:

    If we cast the devil in music out of the major scale, this will produce:

    …a major scale without the fourth and seventh tone.

    Incidentally, this new scale is an already known scale. It is called the major pentatonic scale.

    The term major is used to define this scale because of its relationship to the major scale, while the term pentatonic is used to define scales that have five scale tones per octave.

    3 Facts about this new scale

    The pentatonic scale is a major scale without the devil in music and here are three things I know about the pentatonic scale.

    #1 – It’s very flexible in improvisation. Unlike the major scale, the pentatonic scale can be used over various chord progressions that move in and out of the key. In fact, the pentatonic scale does the job better than the major scale.

    #2 – The pentatonic scale has no avoid notes. In a previous post, we covered the avoid note (which is the fourth tone of the major scale). In the pentatonic scale, there is no avoid note because, as you already know, we casted it out. Lol.

    #3 – It is used in early childhood education. In certain parts of the world, before children are introduced to the major scale, they are exposed to the pentatonic scale. This is because even experienced improvisers can attest to the fact that one can hardly make mistakes while improvising with the pentatonic scale.

    Final Words

    At this point, you should know that the goal of this post is to familiarize you with formation of the pentatonic scale.

    Forgive me if the term “casting out the devil” got you curious and maybe scared.

    My intentions are far from that. I really do hope that with any given major scale, you can derive a pentatonic scale simply by casting out the devil in music (the 4th and 7th tones).

    Until next time.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 zino



    2 Kevin Butler

    Just wanted to reply to you Jermaine!. I’ve been with you for years now man! In my mind I’m still just a beginner though. I am, afterall 61 years old, and my “old days” of picking up a litter easier aren’t quite the same! I’ve had some personal problems health-wise, and some tragedy also, so that sort of slows things down. My whole point is you, and now everyone working with you couldn’t be better teachers if you tried. So, I just wanted to say thank you, everything you’ve shown me is greatly appreciated, I’m gonna keep on working at it, and I just wish you, your beautiful wife, your beautiful kids, and your friends only the best man! Thank you Jermain……… Kevin


    3 Jermaine Griggs

    Kevin! I know the name well! Thanks for your continued support over the years. Always glad to see your comments on facebook. Keep up the great work and looking forward to seeing you here more.


    4 Charles

    Your in depth explanation about the ‘Devil’ in music provided an insight into its history and usage. It was very helpful as it was new information. Reviewing the uses of the pentatonic scale, augmented 4ths, diminished fifths and tritones also was appreciated. Thank you.


    5 Jermaine Griggs

    Glad you enjoyed Onye’s post. He’s an awesome teacher.


    6 Radhames Lopez

    Hi Jermine,

    I am glad that you are back writting regilarly and consistently, you know that I’ve being following you on your posting all the time.

    Your Posting are very educational and make any one to become a great professional musician. That have being my case.

    Continue to provide that high level quality lessons you normally produce.

    God Bless You along with your family.



    7 Jermaine Griggs

    Thank you Radhames. Please stay tuned for more great knowledge where this came from. God bless you too!


    8 Emmanuel Essien

    Hi Jermaine

    I can’t thank you enough for opening my eyes of understanding towards music. God bless you and give you more wisdom, insight and revelation.


    9 Jermaine Griggs

    Thank you Emmanuel.


    10 ruth

    thank you, Jermaine! I appreciate the way point is made to introduce the pentatonic scale. It leaves an impression which helps to remember the lesson. Keep up the good work.


    11 Jermaine Griggs

    I also enjoyed the author’s (onye’s) approach to this. Glad you liked it. And please stay tuned :-).


    12 Bright Obiajunwa Chinedu

    Hi Mr. Jeremain Griggs…am a kinda short of words to say….because am a beginner with hot and great Zeal to play The Gospel Piano like the likes of Mike Bereals and yourself and many more…you know them all in your Team…Jp..and many of them…but unfortunately i have no teacher, i do have a piano…i do have many materials..i mean materials like GK101, 102, 300, 350 and 500 urban music…and many more ….that’s the kinda zeal i got i’ve even got to buying that Rocket piano full pack and Piano for all….but learning all on my self has been very difficult….please i need Guidance…not forgetting the fact that hear and play has had a lot of impact on me but i still feel am lacking behind and what am lacking is a very small thing…just need someone to tell me to do what is gonna kick start my real playing Career..pls…i would be humbled if you do reply me..may be through mail or something….i really need help…my church really needs Life Musically…and i see this as a Burden on me cause we are lacking behind…its all for the service of the Great master….thanks and God Bless your efforts…greet all ya staffs of equipped squad….Hoping and working to be as good you are someday…i believe its achievable…


    13 Nelcoj

    Am overwhelmed with Joy


    14 wilson butte

    Your tutorial class has inspired my music world,
    i’m now so bold of handling piano,in my church
    and can now developed more confidence in
    myself has a guru to stand and debate music
    among my fellow instrumentalist, you have made
    me something else good, thank you and God
    bless you abundantly.


    15 Yat Hoong

    Hello Jermaine,

    This blog is yet another example of complex theory (at least it’s very complex to me) explained very clearly and in layman’s term and totally and well illustrated with sufficient examples and diagrams. This is extremely beneficial to people like I am who enjoy music very much, yet find it very difficult to learn because of the opposite nature of music to what I do for a living. Although I am still a beginner in music, without the generous amount of information of your blogs and the wonderful material I purchased from Hear and Play, it would not even be possible for me to start learning music. I must say your generosity has overflowed many times over such that I have not even finished reading the material I purchased, not to mention the many complimentary information you offer on these blogs. Thank you! God bless you.


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