standard The Devil’s Interval: It Gets A Bad Rap

You read that right. Satan has his very own special sound.

 

Today we’re going to talk about music. Specifically, two notes that, when combined, create the most fiendish of sounds. This interval between the two notes is called a Tritone, and it elicits the same reaction as when one hears someone grating their fingernails across a chalkboard. Cringeworthy and spooky, you’ve heard this sound before, but may not have realized it.

 

All things considered, is the service of Satan the only place for this chord? I don’t think so. But first, let’s dig deeper into this heinous note combination.

 

What is a Tritone?

The Tritone has been around arguably since music began. Early musicians didn’t have a way to quantify, calculate and catalogue the distance between two pitches, but they had their ears to help guide them concerning what sounds were pleasant. This one wasn’t.

 

But what exactly is a Tritone? For non-musicians, A tritone is when you play two notes that are 3 whole steps, or 6 half steps, apart. This results in an augmented fourth which musicians also enharmonically call a diminished 5th(I’m saying they’re the exact same thing, but we can call them by two different names). But perhaps a better explanation is to have you hear it. Have a listen to Black Sabbath’s song called…”Black Sabbath”:

Eerie, right? That’s the stuff horror movies and nightmares are made of.

 

The Devil’s Interval occurs when we raise a perfect 4th or flat a perfect 5th one half step. It generally produces dissonance, which by definition means, “lack of harmony among musical notes.” Loosely defined, “it sounds bad.”

When did we first recognize the Tritone?

This reaction to the note was probably first understood by Guido of Arezzo, who lived sometime between 991/992 and just after 1033. Though Guido’s name conjures images of pizza or loan sharks, he was actually a Medieval era music theorist of the Italian persuasion. He is regarded as the Godfather of modern music notation because he basically invented it.

 

Guido added a Bb as a diatonic pitch to his hexachord system and discovered what he called a “dangerous” interval. It was not long until this interval became known as “Diabolus In Musica” or, “Devil in Music”. So, if you’re a light loving angel fan who frequents church every other day of the week, this chord may be a bit strong for you.

 

What style of music most frequently uses the Devil’s Interval?

I’m glad you asked! You’ve heard it just about everywhere. From Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story to George Harrison’s famous “My Sweet Lord”, the tritone is a regular. Sometimes the interval is added without the listener really being bothered by it. For example, listen to “Friends In Low Places” by Garth Brooks.

The second chord is a diminished chord and inherently, a diminished chord has a diminished 5th, which is the Devil’s Interval. But Ole Garth is clever. He surrounds the tritone with notes and chords that the listener will enjoy, thus making Diabolus In Musica much more palatable.

But if there were an award given out for “Genre that shamelessly uses the tritone” it would be heavy metal. In fact, Black Sabbath (the band most people believe created metal), basically launched itself via the tritone in its song of the same name. Since then, nearly every metal band uses the tritone as a rite of passage. As if you weren’t metal until you met a tritone quota or something.

 

Still, one of my favorite uses of the tritone is Rush’s “YYZ”. Admittedly, I’m a rocker at heart and when Rush explodes onto the track with all the glorious dissonance the tritone has to offer, I’m instantly invigorated and ready to tackle whatever the copy machine in the office work room has to throw at me. Check it out, there’s enough variety in the song that just about anyone can find something they like.

 

Final thoughts

While it has a sinister name and a less-than-desirable sound by itself, the Devil’s interval is like wasabi: a little goes a long way and in the right doses, it’s downright magical. Check out some of the songs on this list. I think you’ll find the Devil’s Interval somewhat palatable if not ultimately pleasant.  As always, my goal has been to enlighten, illuminate and inform. I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, feel free to share it with your friends in person, and on social media! Thanks for reading!

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