1 The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
Other Scales - The Whole Tone Scale

Published July 13th, 2009. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.


The Whole Tone Scale - Like the half/whole diminished scale, the whole tone scale is also a symmetrical scale, meaning it is based on a repeating pattern of specific intervals. In the case of this scale, a whole step interval followed by another whole step interval.


The Whole Tone Scale

Unlike most scales which generally contain seven notes, the whole tone scale is a six note scale. The only other six note scale I can think of is a Blues scale. Examine the scale and the intervals within it below:
 
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Although there are several scales that can be played over dominant chords, the whole tone scale is unique in the fact that it has, like the altered scale, both the raised and lowered 5th, but unlike both the half/whole diminished and altered scale, it contains an unaltered 9th. Let's take a look at and compare all three of them:
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Whole tone scale
 
Half/whole diminished scale
 
Altered scale

Being a symmetrical scale, the scale pattern repeats over and over. Matter of fact, any note in the scale could be its root. Any phrase could be moved up or down in whole steps indefinitely:
   

Harmonizing the whole tone scale
As you can see below, the 7th chord that this scale makes is a simple dominant 7#5 chord. A 7b5 chord is also possible, or a chord with both: 7#5(#11).9ths are not altered so you have to be weary of using this scale over an altered chord. The whole tone scale is the only scale that will yield a dominant 9th chord with and raised 5th as in C9#5. Chords created by this scale (C whole tone): C7#5, C7b5, C9, C9#5, C9b5, C7#5(#11). Dominant 9th chords with raised 5ths are really weird but believe it or not, I have run across them in charts before.

Applications of the whole tone scale
The whole tone scale is most usually used over the "V" chord with a lowered or raised 5th (I use it all the time on the G7#5 chord in "Stella By Starlight" for example). Try applying the C and D whole tone scales over both the C7#5 and D7#5 chords in the following progression:
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Other Applications
This is a very strange application of the whole tone scale and is not for the weak of heart.You can play it on minor chords a half step down, so in the example below, a B whole tone scale over a Cmin7 chord. But be warned, you have to have faith and be brave to make this work. It is a method for playing outside but can also be legitimized if you feel the need. Why does this work? Let's superimpose the scale over the Cmin7 chord and see. B would be the major 7th (as in melodic minor), C# would be a b9 (like phrygian), Eb would be the minor 3rd (just like any minor scale), F would be the 11th (like in most minor modes), G would be the 5th (like like any of the minor modes), A would be the 6th (like dorian). Now you might have noticed that there is no root. There isn't. The superimposed scale creates many of the qualities of the other modes. It is a great way to go outside. I usually stick it between two dorian scales and it creates a nice feeling of tension and relief. It takes some getting used to but is an ingenious tool that almost nobody knows about. I tend to use it when I have a longer amount of time to play on the one minor chord and it definitely works better in more of an open type of jam with less instrumentation (like a trio):

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