Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization – Part 5

Differences Between Horizontal and Vertical Scales

In previous posts we looked at the Seven Principle Scales (which are characterised as ‘vertical’ in nature) and the Four Horizontal Scales of the “Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization”. This post discusses the differences between vertical and horizontal scales as defined by George Russell.

Something we haven’t considered previously is that each of the scales we have looked at have modes. However, much of Russell’s discussion about the qualitative differences between the horizontal and vertical scales actually centres around this concept and in particular how mode I tends to have a major quality and mode VI a minor quality.

Horizontal scales

The horizontal scales have a tendency to resolve to the major (I) or minor (VI) tonic. For example, with an F root the Four Horizontal Scales have an “active tendency”  to resolve to the F major modal tonic or the D minor modal tonic.

Russell says the following:

 . . . modes I major and VI minor of the four horizontal scales of the Lydian Chromatic Scale possess an ACTIVE HORIZONTAL FORCE that causes them to be in a state of resolving to these two modal tonic degrees. 1

Russell also points out that the Four Horizontal Scales all contain the fourth degree and that this is what causes them to “exist in a state of resolving (cadencing)” to the major or minor tonics.

To me, this all sounds like a sideways explanation of Tonal Harmony. Given that the first horizontal scale is the major scale this is no great surprise.

Vertical scales

Of the the vertical scales, Russell says that modes I and VI have varying degrees of “passive unity” with the I major and VI minor chords respectively. This is a significant distinction compared to the horizontal scales. Whereas the horizontal scales have an “active horizontal force” striving for resolution the vertical scales lack the same force.

. . . modes I major and VI minor of the Lydian Chromatic Scale’s Seven Principle Scales are endowed with a PASSIVE VERTICAL FORCE causing them to sound in a state of unity on their Lydian Tonic and minor chord on their sixth degree. 2

Note that Russell refers to the Lydian Tonic here. This merely means the first (tonic) note of the scale but Russell is drawing a distinction between the scales he has derived from the Lydian Chromatic Order of Tonal Gravity and those of conventional derivation (the major scale).

This idea that there is no active force driving forward motion in these scales is really significant. It’s the inception of an idea that we now term Modal Harmony, the idea that we can ‘hang out’ on a chord for a period of time and explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities independent of conventional forward motion.

This is possible because the scales and chords are in a state of union.

Vertical scales represent a union with the
chords they produce. 3

Note also that the vertical scales have a natural tendency to create the harmonic genre of all traditionally definable chords.

Wrapping up

We’ve taken a quick look at the differences between vertical and horizontal scales according to George Russell. Russell does point out that although there are qualitative differences between the vertical and horizontal scales all the scales “may eventually be used in vertical and horizontal tonal gravity environments”.

To me it’s significant that his theory defines the Seven Principle Scales first and that these scales lack the tension that drives forward motion in music. This really is at the crux of Russell’s work and what eventually gave us Modal Harmony – as opposed to Tonal Harmony – and had such a strong influence on artists such as Miles Davis. The album Kind of Blue is often cited as having been the direct result of this influence.

The paper Modal Jazz and Miles Davis: George Russell’s Influence and the Melodic Inspiration behind Modal Jazz from the Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology explains this is detail.

Up next we’ll look at the Principle Chords and chord modes.

Next (Part 6 – Chordmodes, Principle Chordmodes and Principle Chord Families)

Back to Part 1 (index to posts in the series)


  1. Russel, G (2001). The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, 4th Edition, p.18
  2. Russel, G (2001). The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, 4th Edition, p.18
  3. Russel, G (2001). The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, 4th Edition, p.18



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