• Who Else Wants To Learn About Symmetrical Scales And Chords?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Scales,Theory

    In today’s lesson, we’ll be learning about symmetrical scales and chords.

    Believe it or not, most top gospel and jazz pianist do not limit themselves to the natural major and minor scales, the pentatonic scales, and other traditional scales. They incorporate a lot of exotic scales and chords that make their their playing stand out.

    Symmetrical scales and chords are one out of the several elements that the top players are doing. A vast majority of musicians don’t know what symmetrical scales and chords are, and how they can be applied.

    If you belong to that league, invest the next 10 minutes or so in reading this post.

    A Note On Scales

    Although there are so many definitions of a musical scale out there, according to Jermaine Griggs, “…a scale is a regular succession of notes in ascending or descending order, based on a fixed intervallic formula.”

    Permit me to emphasize on a few of the keywords in this definition for clarity sake.

    “…Regular Succession Of Notes…”

    There’s something you must know about this keyword – a regular succession of notes. It exposes the melodic nature of a scale.

    In a previous lesson, we learned that the relationship between notes produces either melody or harmony. Melody is the relationship between notes that are heard successively (one after the other), while harmony is the relationship between notes that are heard simultaneously (at the same time).

    A scale is a melodic element of music, and this is because when a scale is played, the notes are played/heard successively (one after the other).

    Playing all the white notes on the keyboard from C to C:

    …successively, produces the C natural major scale.

    “…Ascending Or Descending Order…”

    Musical scales are bidirectional. Hence, every scale can be played in ascending and descending order.

    “The Ascending Form Of The C Natural Major Scale”

    From C:

    …to C:

    …in ascending order:









    “The Descending Form Of The C Natural Major Scale”

    From C:

    …to C:

    …in descending order:









    “…Fixed Intervallic Formula…”

    Every musical scale has its intervallic formula, which is derived from the distance between successive scale tones.

    “Let’s Quickly Derive The Intervallic Formula Of The C Natural Major Scale…”

    From C to D:

    …is a whole step.

    From D to E:

    …is a whole step.

    From E to F:

    …is a half step.

    From F to G:

    …is a whole step.

    From G to A:

    …is a whole step.

    From A to B:

    …is a whole step.

    From B to C:

    …is a half step.

    Altogether, we have:

    • Whole step
    • Whole step
    • Half step
    • Whole step
    • Whole step
    • Whole step
    • Half step

    …which can be formularized thus:

    W W H W W W H

    Using the “W W H W W W H” formula, the natural major scale can be played in all twelve keys

    A Quick Review On Chords

    A chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not), that are played [or heard] together.

    Let’s give an interpretation to this definition by emphasizing on two of the keywords:

    • Three or more
    • Related notes

    “Three Or More…”

    Although the minimum note aggregate for a chord is three, a chord can consist of four, five, six or more notes.

    Triads are a product of three notes, seventh chords usually have as much as four notes, while extended chords have more than four notes.

    “Related Notes…”

    Although a chord is a collection of notes, it’s not every collection of notes that can be considered as a chord.

    For a collection of notes to be considered as a chord, the notes must be related by a given scale and a class of harmony.

    The notes of the C major triad (C, E and G):

    …are related by the C natural major scale (given scale):

    …and tertian harmony (class of harmony.)

    Tertian harmony is produced when the interval between successive chord tones is in third intervals. From C to E:

    …is a third interval, and so is C-E:

    ..to G:

    “In A Nutshell…”

    A chord must have at least three notes and there must be a scale and intervallic relationship between the notes of the chord.

    Now that we’ve covered scales and chords, let’s proceed to symmetrical scales and chords.

    Symmetrical Scales – Explored

    A scale can be classified as symmetrical when it is made up of exactly the same parts. In this segment, I’ll be breaking down some of the regular symmetrical scales every serious musician should know.

    The Chromatic Scale

    The chromatic scale:

    …is a symmetrical scale because it can be broken down into twelve identical parts that are a half-step away from each other.

    Starting from any note and ascending [or descending] in half-steps until the octave is reached produces the chromatic scale. Starting from E:

    …and ascending in half-steps until its octave is reached:

    …produces the chromatic scale.

    “Take Note…”

    Due to the symmetrical nature of the chromatic scale, there’s just one chromatic scale on the keyboard, which can be played from any note on the keyboard to its octave.

    The Whole Tone Scale

    The whole tone scale is a product of the regular succession of notes in ascending or descending order in whole steps. Starting from C:

    …and ascending in whole steps to D:



    …and so on, until an octave is reached:

    …produces the whole tone scale.

    The whole tone scale consists of six tones and is said to be hexatonic – literally meaning “six tones” – and are broadly classified as two:

    The C whole tone scale:

    The Db whole tone scale:

    Every other whole tone scale on the keyboard will have exactly the same notes as any of the two whole tone scales. For example, the whole tone scale from D to D:

    …or E to E:
    …has the same notes in the C whole tone scale:

    Symmetrical Chords – Explored

    In symmetrical chords, the distance between successive chord tones is the same. Consequently, symmetrical chords can be broken down into identical intervals. Let’s round up by checking out most of them.

    The Diminished triad

    The diminished triad is the chord of the seventh degree in the major key. In the key of C major:

    …where the seventh degree is B:

    …the B diminished triad:

    …is the chord of the seventh degree.

    The diminished triad is symmetrical because it can be broken down into two identical minor third intervals.

    For example, the C diminished triad:

    …can be broken down into C-Eb:

    …and Eb-Gb:

    …and both intervals are identical – minor third intervals.

    The Augmented triad

    The augmented triad is the third degree chord in the harmonic minor scale. Using the A harmonic minor scale:

    …as a reference, the augmented triad can be formed on the third degree (which is C):

    …by stacking C, E and G#:


    A breakdown of the augmented triad reveals its symmetry. The C augmented triad:

    …can be broken down into two identical major third intervals:


    …and E-G#:

    Final Words

    Although symmetrical scales and chords are not commonly used, they still have their place in contemporary music, especially in jazz music where so many improvisers in the likes of Michael Brecker have incorporated them.

    In another lesson, we’ll further our discussion by learning how to connect symmetrical chords with symmetrical scales.

    See you then!

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku 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.

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