Join Pete Cal­lard as he un­locks the se­crets of a highly recog­nis­able and sur­pris­ingly ver­sa­tle scale that’s found in jazz, pop, rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic.

Guitar Techniques - - Learning Zone -

Pete Cal­lard ex­plores the sym­me­try and unique character of the mys­te­ri­ous Whole-Tone scale.

This month we’re go­ing to be ex­plor­ing some of the the­ory be­hind, and uses for, one of the more enig­matic of scales - the Whole Tone. The Whole Tone is known as hex­a­tonic since it is made up of six notes (hexa mean­ing six), just as Pen­ta­tonic scales con­tain five notes (penta mean­ing five).

The Whole Tone scale is cre­ated by mov­ing up in tones, so cre­at­ing a sym­met­ri­cal scale and leav­ing us with the for­mula 1,2, 3, #4, #5, b7 (Ex­am­ple 1 and Di­a­gram 1). Be­cause of this in­ter­val­lic con­struc­tion there is only one shape of the Whole Tone scale (although there are dif­fer­ent fin­ger­ing op­tions - see Di­a­gram 2). If we start from the sec­ond note of the scale, we are left with ex­actly the same scale as from the first note; and start­ing from the third note gives us the same notes as start­ing from the sec­ond note, etc. As well as only one shape, this also means that there are only two dif­fer­ent Whole Tone scales - if we start on C, we can also have C#/Db Whole Tone scale, but then D Whole Tone scale is the same as C Whole Tone, and D#/Eb Whole Tone scale is the same as C#/Db Whole Tone, and so on.

To put it another way, as each in­ter­val in the scale is equidis­tant, any one of them can be con­sid­ered the root; and as there are six notes in the scale, C and C#/Db Whole Tone scales be­tween them con­tain all 12 notes of the Chro­matic scale.

The first step in us­ing any new scale is to find out what chords it will work over, and to do this we need to har­monise it (build a 7th chord by stack­ing the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes). Har­mon­is­ing the Whole Tone scale, we get the in­ter­vals 1, 3 and #5 - there are only six notes in the scale, so the 7th note would be the oc­tave - giv­ing us an Aug­mented triad (Ex­am­ples 2 and 3). As there is only one shape of the Whole Tone scale there are no other modes to har­monise, but if we build another aug­mented triad from the scale’s sec­ond note, be­tween the two chords we get all the notes of the Whole Tone scale, mean­ing that it can be seen as be­ing built from two aug­mented chords a full step (Whole Tone) apart.

Another in­ter­est­ing as­pect of Aug­mented chords is that, as each in­ter­val is equidis­tant (a ma­jor 3rd apart), any one can be con­sid­ered the root - so C Aug­mented can also be seen as E Aug­mented and G# Aug­mented, as they con­tain ex­actly the same notes, and each of those chords could equally be seen as C Aug­mented. Thus, any time we play an Aug­mented chord we can use any of the three notes as the root, and move it up or down in 3rds (Ex­am­ple 4).

Be­cause of its sym­met­ri­cal in­ter­val­lic con­struc­tion, with ev­ery note car­ry­ing the same har­monic weight and thus none stand­ing out, the Whole Tone scale has a unique, un­re­solved sound, and is fre­quently em­ployed for eerie, ethe­real, dream­like ef­fects. It’s widely used in clas­si­cal mu­sic, and is a fea­ture of De­bussy’s im­pres­sion­is­tic sound world. In popular mu­sic, ex­am­ples of

The Whole Tone scale is fre­quently em­ployed for eerie, ethe­real, dream­like ef­fects.

Aug­mented har­mony in­clude the in­tros to Ste­vie Won­der’s You Are The Sun­shine Of My Life, Kraftwerk’s Space­lab, Jimi Hen­drix’s Pur­ple Haze and the mid­dle sec­tion of Iron Maiden’s Rime Of The An­cient Mariner.

Get­ting fa­mil­iar with a new scale can take time. A great way to help get the sound of the Whole Tone scale into your play­ing is with arpeg­gios. Ex­am­ples 5, 6 and 7, and Di­a­gram 3 demon­strate three Aug­mented ar­peg­gio shapes. All the in­ter­vals are equidis­tant so Aug­mented arpeg­gios can also be moved up and down in ma­jor 3rds (think of Billy Swann’s ‘I Can Help’, with its har­monised Aug­mented arpeg­gios mov­ing down the neck in tones). You could equally just learn one of the shapes and move it around, in which case you can think of th­ese three shapes as op­tions.

The re­main­ing ex­am­ples fea­ture dif­fer­ent pat­terns and ideas for the Whole Tone scale, and I trust you will en­joy them.

Th­elo­nius Monk: the Whole Tone per­vades his stun­ning mu­sic

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