In music theory, traditionally, a tetrachord (Greek: τετράχορδoν, Latin: tetrachordum) is a series of three smaller intervals filling in the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion. In modern usage a tetrachord is any four-note segment of a scale or tone row. The term tetrachord derives from ancient Greek music theory, where it signified a segment of the Greater and Lesser Perfect Systems bounded by unmovable notes (Greek: ἑστῶτες). It literally means four strings, originally in reference to harp-like instruments such as the lyre or the kithara, with the implicit understanding that the four strings must be contiguous. Ancient Greek music theory distinguishes three genera (singular: genus) of tetrachords. These genera are characterised by the largest of the three intervals of the tetrachord:
- A diatonic tetrachord has a characteristic interval that is less than or equal to half the total interval of the tetrachord (or approximately 249 cents). This characteristic interval is usually slightly smaller (approximately 200 cents), becoming a whole tone. Classically, the diatonic tetrachord consists of two intervals of a tone and one of a semitone.
- A chromatic tetrachord has a characteristic interval that is greater than about half the total interval of the tetrachord, yet not as great as four-fifths of the interval (between about 249 and 398 cents). Classically, the characteristic interval is a minor third (approximately 300 cents), and the two smaller intervals are equal semitones.
- An enharmonic tetrachord has a characteristic interval that is greater than about four-fifths the total tetrachord interval. Classically, the characteristic interval is a ditone or a major third, and the two smaller intervals are quartertones.
As the three genera simply represent ranges of possible intervals within the tetrachord, various shades (chroai) of tetrachord with specific tunings were specified. Once the genus and shade of tetrachord are specified the three internal intervals could be arranged in six possible permutations.