*Scales: Whole Tone Scales

Whole tone scales have a jazzy sound and are often used in modern jazz writing. The whole tone scale, unlike other scales, is completely symmetric, allowing the performer to have an easier time improvising. The jazz sound comes from the fact that the triads in the scales are augmented.

Scales are the foundation that compositions are built upon. Generally when a composition is one key, it remains in that key for the duration of the compositions. However, there are some exceptions where the composition has a key change in the middle of the piece resulting in an emotional change for the listeners. The type of scale you base your composition is important and can change the overall ambiance your composition exudes.

Generally whole tone scales have a jazzy sound, however, when the notes are played in succession with a sustain pedal, the result is a dreamy, surreal, sound. They sound like you’re in a cloud with a purple dragon who is petting a chicken. An absolute absurd, aloof feeling is given by the sound. Whole tone scales are also unique because they encompass only 6 notes, rather than the 7 that most scales consist of, and the 5 that pentatonic scales include.

whole tone scales

(C Whole Tone Scale)

Unsurpringly, the whole tone scale is comprised of all whole steps, that is it consists of WWWWWW where W is a whole step, which is also known as a major second. These 6 notes (C, D, E, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp) comprise the C whole tone scale. Keep in mind that the whole tone scale can begin on any key. For example we can begin on the key of D.

Notice again the same pattern of WWWWWW.

Whole tones are used in movies and games to signal the transition from reality to a dream, along with a wavy screen.

If you are looking for a fresh start on a composition, the whole tone scale may be your answer. It’s perfect for creating the dreamy, ambient feelings. The whole tone scale is also great for background music, such as in movies or other instances when there are more pressing attention grabbers than the music.

Try the whole tone scale, it's one of the easier scales to harmonize with.