In music theory, an enharmonic scale is "an [imaginary] gradual progression by quarter tones" or any "[musical] scale proceeding by quarter tones". The enharmonic scale uses dieses (divisions) nonexistent on most keyboards, since modern standard keyboards have only half-tone dieses.
More broadly, an enharmonic scale is a scale in which (using standard notation) there is no exact equivalence between a sharpened note and the flattened note it is enharmonically related to, such as in the quarter tone scale. As an example, F♯ and G♭ are equivalent in a chromatic scale (the same sound is spelled differently), but they are different sounds in an enharmonic scale. See: musical tuning.
Musical keyboards which distinguish between enharmonic notes are called by some modern scholars enharmonic keyboards. (The enharmonic genus, a tetrachord with roots in early Greek music, is only loosely related to enharmonic scales.)
Consider a scale constructed through Pythagorean tuning. A Pythagorean scale can be constructed "upwards" by wrapping a chain of perfect fifths around an octave, but it can also be constructed "downwards" by wrapping a chain of perfect fourths around the same octave. By juxtaposing these two slightly different scales, it is possible to create an enharmonic scale.
The following Pythagorean scale is enharmonic:
In the above scale the following pairs of notes are said to be enharmonic:
- C♯ and D♭
- D♯ and E♭
- F♯ and G♭
- G♯ and A♭
- A♯ and B♭
In this example, natural notes are sharpened by multiplying its frequency ratio by 256:243 (called a limma), and a natural note is flattened by multiplying its ratio by 243:256. A pair of enharmonic notes are separated by a Pythagorean comma, which is equal to 531441:524288 (about 23.46 cents).
Moore, John Weeks (1875) . "Enharmonic scale". Complete Encyclopaedia of Music. New York: C. H. Ditson & Company. p. 281.. Moore cites Greek use of quarter tones until the time of Alexander the Great.
- John Wall Callcott (1833). A Musical Grammar in Four Parts, p.109. James Loring.
- Louis Charles Elson (1905). Elson's Music Dictionary, p.100. O. Ditson Company.
- Barbieri, Patrizio (2008). Enharmonic instruments and music, 1470–1900. Latina: Il Levante Libreria Editrice.