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Encyclopedia of Microtonal Music Theory

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tertian harmony

[Joe Monzo]

Pertaining to the interval of a 3rd (or third), whether major, minor, or neutral. Generally refers to common-practice harmony, in which chords are built in 3rds.

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[John Chalmers, Divisions of the Tetrachord]

The traditional harmonic system of Western European music is limited to ratios of prime numbers no higher than 5. The primes 2, 3 and 5 define the Major [Thirds] and Minor Thirds [with the ratios] 5/4 and 6/5 and their compounds, and name is derived from the Latin word for third, tertius.

By an accident of language, tunings limited by the prime number 5 are termed "Tertian, " while those bounded by the prime number 3 are called "Quintal," or "Quartal."

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