• Whole Tone Scale Demystified

    in Piano,Scales,Theory

    whole tone scale

    The whole tone scale is a useful one to know and because of its unique structure, very versatile.

    It is a 6-tone scale (aka – “hexatonic” / hexa = 6) consisting of ALL whole steps.

    Remember:

    A half step is from key to key with no keys in between.
    A whole step always skips a key with one key in between.

    This is a whole step:
    C D

    This is also a whole step:
    F sharp G sharp

    This is also a whole step:
    B C sharp

    These, however, are half steps:
    C D flat
    A flat A
    E F

    Whole Tone Scale – Explored

    Let’s see what happens when we start on C and move in whole steps:

    C D
    C D

    C D E
    C D E

    C D E F#
    C D E F sharp

    C D E F# G#
    C D E F sharp G sharp

    C D E F# G# A#
    C D E F sharp G sharp A sharp

    Introducing the C Whole Tone Scale:

    C D E F# G# A# C
    Whole tone scale C D E F sharp G sharp A sharp C

    Because the whole tone scale is symmetric (all equal intervals), you can start on any tone of the scale to produce the other whole tone scales.

    In other words, C whole tone scale has the same notes as D whole tone scale, which has the same notes as E, F#, G#, and A# whole tone scales.

    All of these are the same. They just differ by starting position:

    C D E F# G# A# C
    Whole tone scale C D E F sharp G sharp A sharp C

    D E F# G# A# C D
    Whole tone scale D E F sharp G sharp A sharp C D

    E F# G# A# C D E
    Whole tone scale E F sharp G sharp A sharp C D E

    F# G# A# C D E F#
    Whole tone scale F sharp G sharp A sharp C D E F sharp

    G# A# C D E F# G#
    Whole tone scale G sharp A sharp C D E F sharp G sharp

    A# C D E F# G# A#
    Whole tone scale A sharp C D E F sharp G sharp A sharp

    So essentially, there are only two unique whole tone scales (and you already know one of them starting on C).

    The other complimentary whole tone scale starts on B.

    B whole tone scale:
    Whole tone scale B D flat E flat F G A B
    B, D♭, E♭, F, G, A, B

    For those who read sheet music, here are the two unique whole tone scales:

    whole tone scale B

    whole tone C

    Whole Tone Scale Observations

    A leading tone is a note that resolves or “leads” to a tone one half step (or semitone) higher or lower. It is what you get on the 7th degree of the major scale (for example, “B” in the C major scale) and has a strong affinity to the “1” or tonic.

    Because whole tone scales are built with only whole steps, they do not possess leading tones or the effect of one tone leading strongly to another. Because all tones are the same distance apart, “no single tone stands out, [and] the scale creates a blurred, indistinct effect.”[1]

    If you build triads on each tone of the wholetone scale, you get augmented chords:

    C Augmented
    C augmented chord C E G sharp

    D Augmented
    D augmented chord D F sharp A sharp

    E Augmented
    E augmented chord E G sharp B sharp

    F# Augmented
    F sharp augmented chord F A sharp D
    *This chord features C## but shown as D here.

    G# Augmented
    G sharp augmented chord G sharp B sharp E
    *This chord features D## but shown as E here.

    A# Augmented
    A sharp augmented chord A sharp D F Sharp
    *This chord features C## and E## but shown as D and F# here.

    Whole Tone Scale Improvisation

    If you look at each degree of the whole tone scale compared to the starting note (or root), you get these intervals:

    C to D = major 2nd

    C to E = major third

    C to F# = augmented fourth (or #11)

    C to G# = augmented fifth (#5 or b13)

    C to A# = minor or dominant 7 (using Bb, enharmonically)

    So just think of all the chords that have these intervals?

    Obviously, you can play whole tone scales over augmented chords (that should be pretty clear by the triads created on each degree of the scale).

    You can also play the whole tone scale generally over any dominant chord that has a #5 alteration.

    Because of the #11 in the scale (#4), you can play it on chords with this alteration as well.

    By altering the whole tone scale a little bit, you can use it over dominant #9#5 and b9#5 chords. Or you can opt for the diminished whole tone scale, also known as the “altered scale,” covered here.

    Well, there you have it. An entire lesson on the whole tone scale, triads built from it, and a few ways to apply it.

    Until next time.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 David Brakes

    Interesting.

    Reply

    2 Jorge Cabrera V.

    Un saludo, gracias por permitirnos estudiar, bendiciones.

    Reply

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