Three gaps, part 4

Okay, we’ve shown that when you generate a scale using an interval X, that scale has no more than three different gap sizes. Now let’s learn about the relationship between those sizes.

Let’s suppose we have three different gap sizes. For instance, the 8 note scale:Here the first note, the note we started with, is F, and the last note added is F♯. That means the Type I rigid gaps are FF♯ and F♯G (the yellow gap on the left, and the purple one immediately to its right, surrounding the last note). AB (the blue gap closest to the center) is a Type II rigid gap, because shifting it by X makes it coincide with EF♯, which isn’t a gap, it’s the two gaps surrounding the first note (EF and FF♯). Clearly that means the size of gap AB is the size of EF (which is the same as the size of rigid gap F♯G) plus the size of FF♯. So in this case the size of the largest gap is the sum of the sizes of the two smaller gaps.

But is that always true? Can you get a Type II gap that isn’t the same size as the sum of the gaps surrounding the first point? Or can you get a scale in which the two gaps surrounding the first point are both the size of one or the other of the Type I gaps?

Let’s try to look at all the possibilities. For the Type I (rigid) gaps:

  1. There are no Type I gaps
  2. There is only one Type I gap
  3. There are two Type I gaps, and they’re the same size
  4. There are two Type I gaps, and they’re different sizes

And for the Type II (rigid) gap:

  1. There is no Type II gap
  2. There is a Type II gap, and it is also a Type I gap
  3. There is a Type II gap, and it is not a Type I gap

Type I gaps surround the last note. If the gaps adjacent to the last note aren’t rigid, that means there’s a note X above the last note, which would have to be the first note, and the only way that can happen is if nX = 0 \mod 1200. That is, X has to be rational, of the form 1200m/n (in lowest terms). Then the n note scale divides the octave into n equal intervals, and we have a 1-gap scale. In that case there aren’t any Type II rigid gaps, either. Every gap coincides with a gap when shifted.

If there is no note X above the last note, then the gap to the left of the last note is rigid and so is the gap to the right, and there are two Type I gaps unless those two gaps are one and the same. In other words, it’s a one-note scale with one (one octave) gap. Which is a degenerate sort of equal division of the octave, so in fact there aren’t any rigid gaps. In other words, if it’s not an equal division of the octave (or a one-note scale), then there must be two distinct Type I gaps. They can be the same size, or not.

Now suppose there is no Type II gap. No gap contains the first note in its shifted interior. The only way that can happen is if there is a note X to the left of the first note, and that would have to be the last note. Again, this means it’s an equal division of the octave, and there are no Type I gaps either.

So suppose there is a Type II gap, but it is also a Type I gap. That is, one of its end notes is the last note. Then when shifted, that end will not coincide with a note. If the two Type I gaps are different sizes, then all we can say is we have a 2-gap scale, and there is no particular relationship between the two sizes.

Example: the 7 note scale:

Here gap AB (the blue gap closest to the center) is a Type II rigid gap: if you shift it, it goes from E to where F♯ would be if there were an F♯, and it contains F. It’s also one of the Type I rigid gaps, since B is the last note; the other is BC. So it’s a 2-gap scale.

If the Type II gap is also Type I, and the two Type I gaps are the same size, well… then obviously we have a 1-gap scale, which means an equal division of the octave, but that has no rigid gaps at all, so by contradiction that case is impossible.

Finally, suppose there is a Type II gap, and it is not a Type I gap. That means there’s a note X to the right of each of its end notes, so when you shift the gap it’ll coincide with two gaps, the two surrounding the first note. The Type II gap is the sum of the gaps surrounding the first note. One of the two gaps surrounding the first note has its “older” end note (namely the first note) on the right end, the other has the older note on the left end. If you shift the first of these as many times as you can, the “newer” note on the left end reaches the last note first, so this gap matches up with the Type I rigid gap in which the last note is on the left end. But if you shift the second one, the “newer” note on the right end reaches the last note first, so that gap matches up with the Type I rigid gap in which the last note is on the right end. So if the two Type I gaps are different sizes, then so are the two gaps surrounding the first note, and we have a 3-gap scale in which the Type II rigid gap is the same size as the sum of the sizes of the two Type I gaps.

The only way the two gaps surrounding the first note can be the same size is if both Type I gaps are the same size, in which case the Type II gap is exactly twice that size and it’s a 2-gap scale. That would happen, for instance, if instead of ~702 cents, X were 700 cents, and you generated an 8-note scale. It would look like the 8-note scale above, except the gaps surrounding the first note both would be 100 cents in size, and so would the gaps surrounding the last note.

Summing up:

  1. If there are no Type I gaps, there are no Type II gaps, and vice versa; we have a 1-gap scale
  2. If there is a Type II gap, and it is also a Type I gap, then the two Type I gaps are different sizes, and we have a 2-gap scale, with no particular relationship between the two sizes
  3. If there is a Type II gap, and it is not a Type I gap, and the Type I gaps are the same size, we have a 2-gap scale with the large gap twice the small gap
  4. If there is a Type II gap, and it is not a Type I gap, and the Type I gaps are not the same size, we have a 3-gap scale with the large gap the sum of the small gaps

So there you go. I’ve framed this discussion in terms of musical scales, putting notes within an octave, at positions ranging from 0 to 1200 cents, but of course this all could be restated in terms of putting points on a unit line segment, at positions from 0 to 1, or on a circle, at angular positions from 0 to 2π. The Wikipedia article says in the latter form it has applications to phyllotaxis, although I’m not sure it has anything significant to say in that field. The theorem also has applications in the theory of Sturmian words, it says, and if I ever come to grips with what Sturmian words are and why one would care, maybe I’ll write about them here… don’t hold your breath, though…

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