Diabolus in Musica: Devil's note in popular songs

Okay so I've seen a lot of musical mytakes recently, But I thought it would be a cool idea if someone wrote one about songs that have the devil's interval in them, also reffered to as the "Tritone" or "Diminished Fifth" "perfect fifth" "Augmented Fourth"

Okay let me explain what the devil's note is......

The "Devil's interval", which was basically just a interval of three whole tones or a set of two notes played together or near eachother that invoked a sinister, creepy or scary tone or atmosphere.

The name diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music") was a term used in the 19th century. It was said to induce feelings of sexual nature or be satanic by the church and said to be a note created by the devil himself, so it was not popular for many composers and classical composers to use this interval in their compositions, because it was too dissonant sounding anyway and sounded off, but it was not uncommon for many 19th century classical composers to use it, Wagner, Stravinsky, Holst for e.g...

It's not uncommon for modern music to have this interval, most songs include a dominant seventh chord somewhere, and dom7ths always have tritones in them

But suprisingly the devil's interval has had a big impact on today's music and film scores.........

Here are some popular songs you didn't know actually use the devil's interval......

Iron Butterfly - In A Gadda da vida

The song starts off with a guitar riff featuring tritones and the hungarian minor gypsy scale, and then goes back to normal into a major chord progression

But you can hear throughout some tritones played by the organ too....

The Pink Panther theme tune

The original theme for the cartoon series and the 1962 film of the same name, uses chromaticism and hungarian minor scale and tritones..............

The first chord you hear before the melody is a tritone with the notes E and B flat (0:00-0:04)

Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze

Listen very carefully to the intro, (that's the only bit, first four seconds)

0:00 - 0:04 The beggining intro is a simple guitar and bass riff, but what's interesting is that it's using the devil's interval.

Jimi is playing a simple octave shape, where the root note and octave note is played, so Jimi is playing a A# note and it's octave, but what's interesting is the bass backing is playing against that with a E note and it's octave. So essentially together it forms a tritone and devil's interval, which is why it sounds so alien and dissonant, after that the song goes back to normal, (Only the first four seconds are tritones).....

Camille Saint-Saens - Danse Macabre

I'm sure many of you will recognise this one, as that it's been included in many films, cartoons and Tv.

The solo violin enters playing the tritone consisting of an A and an E-flat—in an example of scordatura tuning, the violinist's E string has actually been tuned down to an E-flat to create the dissonant tritone.

Busta Rhymes -Woo-Ha!! Got You All In Check

This was actually sampled from a much earlier record which comes from Galt MacDermot’s 1969 track “Space".

The bass track was sampled, and features the devil's interval.

In the looped sample, the bass jumps alarmingly from Db to G, before reassuringly going to Ab and landing back on Db. The song starts a minute in:

The Simpsons theme tune???

It’s the very first notes you hear: “The Siiiiiimmmm-” form a tritone, before “-mmpsons” resolves back to a perfect fifth. The bass notes you can hear poking through now and again also follow a pattern that’s based around the Devil’s interval.first two notes of the vocal opening to the theme from The Simpsons

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath

Skipping past the raining and eerie silence, The main riff features the devil's interval.

The opening track is based almost entirely on a tritone interval played at slow tempo on the electric guitar, The riff starts with a G5 power chord, then Higher octave g note is played, followed by a C# note, with a trill.

Geezer Butler claims the riff was inspired by "Mars, the Bringer of War," a movement in Gustav Holst's The Planets..... Which is another earlier classical piece of music that had the devil's interval in it too.

The song's lyrics concern a "figure in black" which bassist Geezer Butler claims to have seen after waking up from a nightmare

Metallica - Enter Sandman

With this song it's just the acoustic clean arpeggio intro that features tritones..

The little acoustic arpeggio intro features tritones usage, but it's limted to that.

The chorus riff features tritones too.........

But there is prominent tritones usage throughout the whole song too.

Fun fact: During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, uncooperative prisoners were exposed to the song for extended periods by American interrogators. According to United States Psychological Operations, the intention was to "break a prisoner's resistance [... by] playing music that was culturally offensive to them

The Twilight zone theme

American composer Hermann scored for this, Hermann is known for his usage of tritones in Film scores.

A famous example of this is the Twilight Zone theme (“There is a Fifth dimension…”) where Herrmann overlaps the E minor (E/G/B) and Eb minor (Eb/Gb/Bb) triad chords and creates a rather hazy, unsettling atmosphere.

Psycho - Prelude theme

From the great thriller/horror flick, psycho......Hermann used the tritone to evoke tension in the film's score.

Herrmann’s stylistic devices is tritone usage. You see and hear this is so many scores. One of his most oft-used tritone intervals is C to F# (augmented 4th)

This includes the “Psycho Prelude” (C-F#)

West side story - Maria

This song is widely known for its use of the melodic interval of a tritone in the main theme. The song is an example of the use of Lydian mode, which is the same as the major scale but with a raised 4th, giving the tritone characteristic of this piece.

As the main protaganist says "Maria" you can distinctly hear the tritone, this is a little nod to the fact that there relationship is conflicting, and clever genius where the composer is trying to omit a type of feeling that there love for eachother may be unconventional, hence the tritone at 0:38 and again at 0:53

South Park - Theme Song

Primus, the band behind the south park theme tune... Not scary, just weird and bizarre sounding

The weird short, uses tritones and dissonance to get the weird feels bruh.

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor

This is Bach's gothic piece, but listen at 0:23 you can the clash in the diminished chord, there is a tritone that's why......... the interval between the C# and G

Miles Davis - Sid's Ahead

Jazz composers are especially fond of prominently placed tritones. Here are example of tune that begin their melodies with them:

Tritone substiution is a common thing in Jazz music, often musicians will use tritones to give a certain mood. Unlike most genres you can actually play tritones and make it sound pleasent and nice.


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What Girls Said 1

  • Nice take :)


What Guys Said 1

  • Damn it... wish I had learned more about music and tones and what not... It would be intersting to be able to hear these things myself.

    • You can , I'm no musical expert myself... But just google "tritones" or "diminshed fifths" and listen to the example...

      It's a distinctive tone, once you can remember it, you can listen for tones in different pieces of music, like minor 3rds, major 3rds

    • I sure will, thanks dude