• Understanding the Symmetry of the Whole Tone Scale

Today, we’ll be dissecting the whole tone scale.

Its name is derived from the whole tone distance between its scale tones. We’ve already covered the whole tone scale in a previous post but here’s a quick refresher:

Whole Tone Scale Review

Below is the C whole tone scale:

In between all scale tones is the distance of a whole tone.

Here’s what this means…

When we consider the distance between the notes of the whole tone scale…

From C-D:

…is a whole tone.

from D-E:

…is a whole tone.

E-F♯:

…is a whole tone.

F-G♯:

…is a whole tone.

G-A♯:

…is a whole tone.

A-C:

…is also a whole tone (aka -“whole tone progression“).

Each interval is the same – a whole tone.

Now that we’re done with the review, let’s look at the bigger picture in today’s post.

The Symmetry of the Whole Tone Scale

The goal of this post is to break down the whole tone scale into several symmetries.

Symmetry literally means the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts.

In other words, we’re dissecting the whole tone scale into various symmetrical intervals that we can see within it. This will provide you a fresh perspective like never before.

So if you give me 10 minutes, we’re going to cover six parallel and symmetrical intervals.

Parallel intervals here refers to intervals that can be moved “side by side, having the same distance continuously between them“.

This will get clearer to you as we progress.

Symmetrical Interval #1 – Major Second

The first interval that can be used in parallel is the major 2nd.

The major 2nd is the distance between the first and second tones of any known major scale. In the major scale of C:

…the interval between the first and second tones:

…is known as the major second.

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several major 2nd intervals.

It’s application time. Here’s how these parallel intervals can be applied over Cdom7.

Symmetrical Interval #2 – Major Third

The major 3rd can also be used in parallel.

The major 3rd is the distance between the first and third tones of any known major scale. In the major scale of C:

…the interval between the first and third tones:

…is known as the major third.

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several major 3rd intervals.

If you play these parallel intervals over Cdom7, this is what it’ll sound like:

Symmetrical Interval #3 – Augmented Fourth

The augmented 4th (aka – “tritone”) can also be found within the octave compass of the whole tone scale.

The distance between the first and fourth tones of any known major scale is known as the perfect fourth. In the major scale of C:

…the interval between the first and fourth tones:

…is known as the perfect fourth.

Raising this perfect fourth (C-F) by a semitone to make it larger (or augment it) produces:

…the augmented fourth.

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several augmented 4th intervals.

This is how these parallel intervals sound when played over Cdom7.

Symmetrical Interval #4 – Augmented Fifth

The augmented 5th is the next interval that falls within the compass of the whole tone scale.

The distance between the first and fifth tones of any known major scale is known as the perfect fifth. In the major scale of C:

…the interval between the first and fifth tones:

…is known as the perfect fifth.

Raising this perfect fourth (C-G) by a semitone to make it larger (or augment it) produces:

…the augmented fifth.

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several augmented 5th intervals.

Listen to my application of these parallel intervals over Cdom7.

Symmetrical Interval #5 – Minor Seventh

Next in line is the minor 7th, the next interval that falls within the octave compass of the whole tone scale.

The distance between the first and seventh tones of any known major scale is the major seventh. In the major scale of C:

…the interval between the first and seventh tones:

…is the major seventh.

However, if the seventh tone (B) is lowered by a semitone, this will produce:

…the minor seventh.

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several minor 7th intervals.

Listen to my application of these parallel intervals over Cdom7.

Symmetrical Interval #6 – Perfect Eighth (Octave)

The final parallel interval that falls within the compass of the whole tone scale is the perfect eighth (aka – “octave”).

If you need to know more about the octave, check out my lesson on “4 Dimensions of the Octave.”

Within the compass of an octave of every known whole tone scale:

…lies several perfect eighth intervals (or simply, octaves).

Listen to my application of these parallel octaves over Cdom7.

Final Words

Beyond the presentation of the whole tone scale as a 6-tone scale (aka – “hexatonic scale”), this post has shown you another dimension that you will serve useful when you want to incorporate dissonance into your playing.

Within the octave compass of the whole tone scale are 6 parallel intervals. The major 2nd and 3rd, the augmented 4th and 5th, the minor seventh, and the perfect eighth.

So the next time you want to create a “dramatic” effect over your Cdom7 (or dom7 in any other key), consider what we just covered. It’s as simple as breaking up intervals and moving them around the keyboard, side by side.

If you want to sound unpredictable, you can break it up into major thirds and all of a sudden, switch to perfect fourths, and then spontaneously to augmented fifths, etc. The sky’s the limit.

I’ll be back with another exciting lesson tomorrow.

Until then.

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Chuku Onyemachi

Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group
Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.