The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is one of the most important books about the musical universe. It is also one of the most needlessly confusing books ever written. I’ve devoted a lot of time to finding my way into it.
In 1976, I purchased one of the early editions of George Russell’s famous (some might say infamous) book about tonal gravity. I was immediately taken by it and have worked with it ever since, sometimes more than at other times, but continuously for over 40 years now. I have some hard-earned insights into what seemed to be a complex subject when I began. This series of articles is about those insights and about what the LCCTO is and what it is not, and about how I have utilized it to help me to create the music I wanted to create.
First and foremost, the LCCTO is a map. As with any map, it is most useful when you know where you want to go.
Second and just as important, the LCCTO is NOT a system. I am fairly certain that looking at the LCCTO as a system is at the root of much of the despair I’ve seen in musicians trying to “deal with” the LCCTO.
I also believe that George Russell himself is somewhat responsible for the fact that so many people have the sense that the LCCTO is a system, because Russell presents his Concept in that way, in my opinion.
But the point is not to debate this issue. The point is that when I discovered the map at the heart of the LCCTO, light was shed on many, many things that were hidden before. So, let me begin with the map.
The early editions of the LCCTO book included an insert, in a pocket at the back of the book, not bound into the book but placed loosely in a pocket. It was called THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE.
(Note: a copy of the chart can be found on the Lydian Chromatic Concept page on Facebook . Find it and copy it )
The chart is rarely mentioned in the text of the early editions. Later editions of the book are completely different than the early editions. The later editions, including the current one, are so different as to be a completely different book. And missing from those editions is THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE. That is a big loss, in my opinion, and here is why.
The name of that chart says a lot. First, TONAL GRAVITY. That is the raison d’etre for the book and the entire LCCTO. Here, then is a complete chart of tonal gravity.
But the rest of the title tells us something just as important, even if it seems obvious. The remainder of the title is …… OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE. Of course, a Lydian chromatic scale is nothing more than a chromatic scale. 12 notes, moving in minor 2nds through an octave. Simple.
But the other important word is the most over looked : “A Lydian Chromatic Scale”.
Just one chromatic scale.
But of course all chromatic scales are the same, so what does it matter? It matters for this reason:
THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE is a map of just ONE chromatic scale. There are, of course 12 of them. But THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE describes just one of them at a time. You need to name that chromatic scale before the chart has any meaning at all. The map is featureless until the chromatic scale is named.
Everything of value in the chart is only revealed when the chromatic scale is named. When we name it, we determine the TONIC, the FUNDAMENTAL, the CENTER of our chromatic universe. For the moment.
I say for the moment because we can change the name of the chromatic scale to something else and then THAT becomes the TONIC, the FUNDAMENTAL, the CENTER of our chromatic universe then.
For now, we will choose a name and we will make the chart become
THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF AN F LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE.
Now, we can use the chart as the map of tonal gravity that it is. It will now reveal EVERY ASPECT of TONAL GRAVITY that exists in that F LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE.
And, when we know what that means, we then have the tools we need to use the LCCTO. However, there is more to being able to use a tool than merely possessing it
But first, we need to grasp the tool and understand how it works.
UNDERSTANDING THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE.
Ok. We are in an F Lydian Chromatic Universe now, meaning F is our tonic, our fundamental, our center. It is the key of the music perhaps. Everything we do now starts from the F. get it? Good.
Look at the chart.
Across the top, reading from left to right we see THE TWELVE INTERVAL CATEGORIES OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE, then PRIME, then, -2, then 2, then -3, then 3, then 4, then +4, then 5, then +5, then 6, then -7, then 7.
Those headings name all the intervals possible in a chromatic scale. PRIME just indicates a unison, not exactly what we call an interval, but all the rest are known intervals that can occur. Those columns under those titles are a map of the tonal gravity of that particular interval.
Repeat: THOSE COLUMNS, UNDER THOSE HEADINGS, ARE A MAP OF THE TONAL GRAVITY OF THAT INTERVAL.
Reading down any one of those columns will map out the entire tonal gravity of every one of thos intervals contained in that LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE. All of them.
Let’s pick one interval and see what it shows. I will pick “3”, the Major 3rd interval,
In that column, which is about dead center on the page, we see a series of Roman Numerals which proceed down the column to the bottom of the page. If you count those Roman Numerals in that column, you will find there are 12 of them. The same number of pitches in a chromatic scale.
The Roman Numerals signify this: the LOCATION of the NOTE in THE CHROMATIC SCALE from which we will create the required interval. In our example, major 3rd, we look at the first Roman Numeral in that column. It is “I”. That tells us we make a Maj 3rd interval STARTING FROM the FIRST note in our chromatic scale, which is “F”. To make that Maj 3rd, we go from F to A.
No we have the first Maj 3rd and, according to the LCCTO, it is the most consonant Maj 3r we can create in an F Lydian Chromatic world.
I will NOT go into WHY that is so. Suffice it to say that it is the very soul of the LCCTO that the overtone series creates the basis for tonal gravity. You SHOULD know this but you don’t NEED to know it to proceed.
So, we created the first Maj 3rd by using the information on our tonal gravity “map”. If we continue down that column, we get this:
I= F and A
V= C ( the name of the note in the V position of an F Lydian Chromatic Scale) and an E.
II = G and B
III= A and C#
+V=C# and F
VII= E and G#
-III= G# and C
IV= Bb and D
+IV= B and D#
-VII= D# and G
VI= D and F#
-II= F# and A#
And there you have every Major 3rd interval contained in an F chromatic scale, listed in an “outward bound” sequence, meaning each one is progressively moving AWAY from the tonal center of F. In other words, the ones closer to the top have a stronger tonal gravity (pull) to F than the ones closer to the bottom.
Make sure you understand that. It is not complicated but it may be new to you. Understanding just that bit will help you read this “map” in many different ways.
For instance: If F to A is the most consonant maj 3rd interval in an F tonic world, it makes perfect sense that the maj 3rd at the bottom of the list F# to A# would be the least consonant BECAUSE, all by itself, the F# to A# would occupy the TOP spot on WHICH “map” (THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE)? It’s simple.
We know the top spot is held by the pair which is built on the I scale position. Therefore, a Maj 3rd interval starting on F# will reside at the top of a “map” of an F# chromatic scale.
Make sure you understand that.
If we, for just a moment, name our chart an F# chart, then the “I” Roman Numeral belongs to F#, and the top Maj 3rd is F# to A#.
We are out of F# and back to our original F Lydian Chromatic Scale.
Now, do the same for each column. When you have completed all that, you have the entire map of the Tonal Gravity of the F Chromatic Scale.
Good question. Now, what good is that information? How is it useful?
Here is where you come to realize that the LCCTO is NOT a system. It does not tell you how to use it.
George Russell has, in early editions and in late editions, given examples of how it can be used. Those examples may be helpful or may be confusing. Before we get into those, I’d like to stay with our new “map” for a minute.
It is a map of a sound world; an F sound world. In my opinion, it should be HEARD before it can be understood as being useful for mere mortals. Geniuses and those with perfect pitch may be able to look at the page and “get it”, but not me. So, I sat at a piano and listened to them. Using a F in the left hand, I then payed the intervals as named earlier, sometimes spelling each pitch individual, sometimes sounding them together against the F fundamental.
I did that for each interval, many time, until I could hear a lot of what was happening. I then took it to my saxophone and flute, and played them, wrote etudes for practice. I wrote them as described earlier: outward bound, top to bottom on the chart. Then I did it bottom to top (inward bound, toward the F tonal center). I did that for each interval, again and again.
I heard many things, discovered things I “liked” and “didn’t” like about different intervals in different relationships to the tonic. Over time, I concentrated on the intervals ( my “vocabulary” ) that fit with my own aesthetic. Of course, that developed over time, but it has remained quite consistent as well. It became my language and my vocabulary for my music.
This chart is the basis for everything that is in the LCCTO. It is the raw material and it is worth its weight in gold.
THE LCCTO SCALES
George Russell organized the information in the “map” into scales. If you look down the left hand side of THE TONAL GRAVITY CHART OF A LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE you will see them named, with dotted lines running left to right across the page to show where the various intervals fall inside his scale system. And, in his scale system, when you wish to introduce a new interval pair, one that is outside the scale you are using, you must “change scales”. You must change scales each time, although you are still in the same tonal universe.
In other words, you have to reorient yourself in order to pursue various degrees of consonance or, more accurately, tonal gravity.
This is the aspect of the scale system that I think makes it cumbersome for anything more than playing notes that “sound correct”. Tonal gravity, the whole point of the LCCTO, is not known, only approximated.
Is it more difficult to work within ONE scale of 12 tones (The Lydian Chromatic Scale of the moment) or within the 8 scales as shown on the chart?
For me, the answer is simple: one scale in which I am completely in control of all possibilities and paths, according to my taste, my ideas, the people I am playing with and the meaning of the music I am making.
Let’s do the math. 8 scales per tonic, 12 tonics equals 96 scales.
One scale per tonic, 12 tonics equals 12 scales.
You tell me which way is more complex.
It took me hours to put the above together. I will post another article on what can be learned in the LCCTO in the future. But everything that you need to know is in that chart already.