In modern Western tonal music theory, a diminished second is the interval produced by narrowing a minor second by one chromatic semitone. It is enharmonically equivalent to a perfect unison. Thus, it is the interval between notes on two adjacent staff positions, or having adjacent note letters, altered in such a way that they have no pitch difference in twelve-tone equal temperament. An example is the interval from a B to the C♭ immediately above; another is the interval from a B♯ to the C immediately above.
|24 equal temperament||50|
In particular, it may be regarded as the "difference" between a diatonic and chromatic semitone. For instance, the interval from B to C is a diatonic semitone, the interval from B to B♯ is a chromatic semitone, and their difference, the interval from B♯ to C is a diminished second.
Being diminished, it is considered a dissonant interval.
Size in different tuning systems
In tuning systems other than twelve-tone equal temperament, the diminished second can be viewed as a comma, the minute interval between two enharmonically equivalent notes tuned in a slightly different way. This makes it a highly variable quantity between tuning systems. Hence for example C♯ is narrower (or sometimes wider) than D♭ by a diminished second interval, however large or small that may happen to be (see image below).
In 12-tone equal temperament, the diminished second is identical to the unison (
In Pythagorean tuning, however, the interval actually shows a descending direction, i.e. a ratio below unison, and thus a negative size (−23.46 cents), equal to the opposite of a Pythagorean comma. Such is also the case in twelfth-comma meantone, although that diminished second is only a twelfth of the Pythagorean one (−1.95 cents, the opposite of a schisma).
The table below summarizes the definitions of the diminished second in the main tuning systems. In the column labeled "Difference between semitones", m2 is the minor second (diatonic semitone), A1 is the augmented unison (chromatic semitone), and S1, S2, S3, S4 are semitones as defined in five-limit tuning#Size of intervals. Notice that for 5-limit tuning, 1/6-, 1/4-, and 1/3-comma meantone, the diminished second coincides with the corresponding commas.
|Tuning system||Definition of diminished second||Size|
|Pythagorean tuning||m2 − A1||Opposite of Pythagorean comma||−23.46||524288:531441|
|1/12-comma meantone||m2 − A1||Opposite of schisma||−1.95||32768:32805|
|12-tone equal temperament||m2 − A1||Unison||0.00||1:1|
|1/6-comma meantone||m2 − A1||Diaschisma||19.55||2048:2025|
|5-limit tuning||S3 − S2|
|1/4-comma meantone||m2 − A1||(Lesser) diesis||41.06||128:125|
|5-limit tuning||S3 − S1|
|1/3-comma meantone||m2 − A1||Greater diesis||62.57||648:625|
|5-limit tuning||S4 − S1|
|19-tone equal temperament||m2 − A1||Chromatic semitone (A1 = m2 / 2)||63.16||2^(1÷19):1|
- Bruce Benward and Marilyn Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p. 54. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0. Specific example of an d2 not given but general example of minor intervals described.
- Haluska, Jan (2003). The Mathematical Theory of Tone Systems, p. xxvi. ISBN 0-8247-4714-3. Minor diesis, diminished second.
- Rushton, Julian. "Unison (prime)]". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
- Benward and Saker (2003), p. 92.