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Encyclopedia of Microtonal Music Theory

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(contraction of Greek: gamma and Latin: ut)

[Joe Monzo]

The full range of pitches used in a musical system. The term was used primarily by early medieval European theorists.

The word is derived from the use of letters of the Roman alphabet to describe the pitches as they were assumed to have been used in ancient Greece, with capital letters (beginning with 'A' for proslambanomenos and ascending in alphabetical order) used for the lower octave and lower-case letters used for the higher octave.

Eventually, an additional note was added a whole-tone below 'A' as a new lowest note, and it was designated by the Greek letter for 'G', gamma (Γ). When Guido d'Arezzo created his system of solfege syllables arranged in hexachords to represent the pitches, this lowest note was given the first solfege syllable 'ut'. The normal way of designating each pitch in the system was to use the letter followed by all of the applicable solfege syllables. Most of the letters could have several different syllables associated with them, revealing their different functions in the various hexachords of which they were members; however, the low Γ could only be 'ut', and so was always called 'gamma ut, hence the term 'gamut', which eventually came to be used to refer to the entire set of pitches, and in fact to non-musical things as well.

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