Pandiatonic chord from Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms 3rd movement[1]
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Pandiatonicism is a musical technique of using the diatonic (as opposed to the chromatic) scale without the limitations of functional tonality. Music using this technique is pandiatonic.


The term "pandiatonicism" was coined by Nicolas Slonimsky in the second edition of Music since 1900 to describe chord formations of any number up to all seven degrees of the diatonic scale, "used freely in democratic equality".[2] Triads with added notes such as the sixth, seventh, or second (added tone chords) are the most common,[3][4]) while the "most elementary form" is a nonharmonic bass.[1] According to Slonimsky's definition,

Pan-diatonicism sanctions the simultaneous use of any or all seven tones of the diatonic scale, with the bass determining the harmony. The chord-building remains tertian, with the seventh, ninth, or thirteenth chords being treated as consonances functionally equivalent to the fundamental triad. (The eleventh chord is shunned in tonic harmony because of its quartal connotations.) Pan-diatonicism, as consolidation of tonality, is the favorite technique of NEO-CLASSICISM [sic].[5]

Pandiatonic music typically uses the diatonic notes freely in dissonant combinations without conventional resolutions and/or without standard chord progressions, but always with a strong sense of tonality due to the absence of chromatics. "Pandiatonicism possesses both tonal and modal aspects, with a distinct preference for major keys".[2] Characteristic examples include the opening of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, Alfredo Casella's Valse diatonique, and Igor Stravinsky's Pulcinella.[6] "The functional importance of the primary triads...remains undiminished in pandiatonic harmony".[2] An opposed point of view holds that pandiatonicism does not project a clear and stable tonic.[7] Pandiatonicism is also referred to as "white-note music,"[8] though in fact occasional accidentals may be present.[citation needed] Other composers who employed the technique are Maurice Ravel, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Aaron Copland, and Roy Harris.[9] Pandiatonicism is also employed in jazz (e.g., added sixth ninth chord) and in Henry Cowell's tone clusters.[10]

Slonimsky later came to regard pandiatonicism as a diatonic counterpart of Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, whereby melodies may be made up of seven different notes of the diatonic scale, and then be inverted, retrograded, or both. According to this system, "strict pandiatonic counterpoint" may use progressions of seven different notes in each voice, with no vertical duplication.[9]

The term has been criticized as one of many by which, "Stravinsky's music, everywhere and at once, is made to represent or encompass every conceivable technique",[11] and that has, "become so vague a concept that it has very little meaning or use".[12] Pandiatonic music is usually defined by what it is not, "by the absence of traditional elements":[13] chromatic, atonal, twelve-tone, functional, clear tonic, and/or traditional dissonance resolutions.[14] "It has been diatonic music lacking harmonic consistency [or]...centricity".[15] Slonimsky himself, making fun of the definition, quoted a professor calling pandiatonicism "C-major that sounds like hell".[16]

Examples of pandiatonicism include the harmonies Aaron Copland used in his populist work, Appalachian Spring,[17] and the minimalist music by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and the later works of John Adams.[18][19] William Mann describes The Beatles' "This Boy" as, " of their most intriguing, with its chains of pandiatonic clusters".[20]

Pandiatonic music

The following musical works include pandiatonicism.

See also



  • Andriessen, Louis, and Elmer Schönberger. 2006. The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 9789053568569.
  • Anon. 2001. "Pandiatonicism". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl, Julian Anderson, Charles Wilson, Richard Cohn, and Brian Hyer. 2001. "Harmony". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Daniels, Arthur. 1966. "Heitor Villa-Lobos: String Quartet No. 10" (review). Notes, second series 22, no. 3 (March): 1108.
  • Everett, Walter. 1999. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford. ISBN 9780195129410.
  • Everett, Walter. 2001. The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514105-4.
  • Hepokoski, James A. 1984. "Formulaic Openings in Debussy". 19th-Century Music 8, no. 1 (Summer): 44–59.
  • Jaffe, Stephen. 1992. "Conversation between SJ and JS on the New Tonality". Contemporary Music Review 6, no. 2:27–38.
  • Kennedy, Michael. 2006. "Pandiatonicism". The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, revised; edited by Joyce Bourne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861459-3.
  • Kostelanetz, Richard. 2013. A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781136806193. Kostelanetz appears to be quoting Slonimsky.
  • Latham, Alison (ed.). 1992. "Pandiatonicism [Pandiatonism]". The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Machlis, Joseph. 1979. Introduction to Contemporary Music, second edition. New York and London: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-09026-4.
  • Mann, William. 1963. "London". The Times (December 27).
  • Schiff, David. 1997. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue. Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521559539.
  • Simms, Bryan R. 1986. Music of the Twentieth Century: Style and Structure. New York: Schirmer Books; London: Collier Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-872580-8.
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas. 1938. Music since 1900, second edition. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas, 1947. Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-02-611850-5. Reprinted, Schirmer Trade Books, 1975. ISBN 978-0825614491.
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas. 2000. The Listener's Companion: The Great Composers and Their Works, edited by Electra Yourke. New York: Schirmer Trade Books. ISBN 9780825672781.
  • Strassburg, Robert. 1976. "Ned Rorem: String Quartet No. 2" (review). Notes, second series 33, no. 1 (September): 166.
  • Tymoczko, Dmitri. 2011. A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-971435-3.
  • van den Toorn, Pieter. 1975. "Some Characteristics of Stravinsky's Diatonic Music". Perspectives of New Music 14, no. 1. (Autumn-Winter): 104–138.
  • Waters, Robert Francis. 2008. Déodat de Séverac: Musical Identity in Fin de Siècle France. Aldershot, Hants., and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754641056.
  • Woodward, James Charles. 2009. A System for Creating Pandiatonic Music. Arizona State University. ISBN 9781109147223.