Slonimsky – First Look

I’ve been digging through the Slonimsky book for a couple of weeks now. It uses several terms that are a bit unusual, so  I recommend anyone trying it to keep a good music dictionary or music theory dictionary at hand. And before we get started, let’s get the true definition of “theory” as it is used in music.

There are multiple definitions of theory in the dictionary. The one that seems to be stuck in most people’s mind is: “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.” That is not how the word is used in the term music theory. The definition used is: “the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory“. Both of these definitions are taken from the website

The guiding approach of Slonimsky is far more than just a diminished scale. There are over 1,000 examples in the book of scales and melodic patterns. The guitar version doesn’t contain all of those due to range limitations.

Slonimsky’s principle is based on dividing the octave in to equal divisions. The first one shown is called the Tritone progression. This progression divides the octave into 2 equal parts. In the key of C, you have C, F# and an octave higher C. The scales and patterns add additional notes between the principal tones. And here he uses a few couple of coined terms. The first is Interpolation, which means inserting one or more notes between the principal tones. Infrapolation is the insertion of a note below the principal tone. Ultrapolation is the addition of a note above the next principal tone. These can be combined.Tritone progression

The principle is often seen in jazz, especially in the bebop era. The approach notes (as they are referred in jazz) are part of melodic patterns in the classical approach from Slonimsky. Nos. 392 and 393 in the Sesquitone Progression are the half-whole step and whole-half, respectively, 8 tone scales that we call the diminished scale. The current one that I’m working through is No. 403 which is a 3-note pattern with the principle tone notes (C, Eb, F#, A, C, which is dividing the octave into 4 equal parts) with the Ultrapolation of a b5 and a major third for each principle tone. This gives you C F# E, Eb A G, F# C Bb and A Eb D. It’s written in 16th notes in the book which can be a challenge in itself.


The book can be ordered from Amazon and a number of other online retailers. Grab a copy and work with it. It will take a while but I’m certain it’s worth it. Let me know your  experiences and thoughts this here or on the Facebook page.



About Dwight Mabe

I've playing music since the age of 5...a really, really long time. I've been teaching bass guitar and double bass for over 30 years, writing about music and bass guitar for nearly as long.
This entry was posted in Advanced, Intermediate, Music Theory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Slonimsky – First Look

  1. Lisa Bennett says:

    I just stumbled on your website… which version of the Slominsky book are you using? I’ve seen one for Guitar (with tab), but never one using bass clef.


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