whole tone scale

Interesting in that of all of the possible groups of pitches created within the equal tempered system, the grouping with perhaps the simplest intervalic formula creates a most unique sounding, distinctive and potentially important color for the advanced creative musician. I include this color with the major scale colors simply because it uses a major third in it's construction. Rarely if ever used as a tonal center color as say the major / relative minor groups, the whole tone color is a 'tension creator" and as such is used to accelerate or heighten the need to resolve. For the augmented color is perhaps more of a hybrid or symmetrical scale. than something that evolved out of our older, modal system of musical resources. Dig the wholetone / augmented color in a resolving manner to the minor tonality. Example 1.

wt1.TIF (7792 bytes)

From the example above, we sense that the wholetone color's tonal instability relegates it to the dominant sounds / chord function and harmony.

As the name implies, our augmented / whole tone group of pitches is constructed exclusively of whole tones, simply a series of whole steps or major seconds that "loops" back onto itself after it's sixth occurrence, thus a symmetrical scale. Sound out the pitches below, creating a 2 octave whole tone scale whose root pitch is C. Example 2.

wt2.TIF (7522 bytes)

Cool huh? Sounds major for sure, not minor, but there is a definite twist to it. The two different spellings used in each of the 2 octaves in example 1 are simply enharmonic equivalents. Can you see how it "loops" (repeats) onto itself as we ascend the octaves?" Do you dig the sound and color? Is this a new color for you? From where does this unique whole tone color organically originate? Personally, I think it simply emerged from the theory of equal temperament, the dividing up of the octave into 12 equal parts. Why does the term augmented come into play? Simply in that the fifth degree is "augmented" or raised up by half step. This term perhaps figures more in with augmented chords than scales, but raising the fifth by half step is why I apply the term to this group of pitches.

So why is the whole tone color important to the creative musicians palette? The whole tone color is a very unique and character sound and its importance in the jazz world is dependent on the sound and style of the individual players and composers. It is a bit hard to "control" and disguise due to the strength of its coloring and its ability to quickly suspend the tonal gravity associated with diatonic / key centered melodic ideas. Much diligent study and experimentation with the whole tone color enables the improvising player to create lines and melodies that captures the whole tones colors haunting semblance of diatonically "belonging" while retaining its quality of being outside the diatonic realm, by its ability to "blur" established key centers and suspend tonal gravity. It is amazing how quickly the sounding of the whole tone color can suspend tonal gravity, it is potentially a big player in the creation of artistic tension and it's release. A second important theoretical aspect of the whole tone color is in it's potential for use in modulation, the ability for one group of pitches to resolve to multiple keys of either the major or minor tonalities. The whole tone color is an essential although rather advanced color used to morph or crossing from the one tonality to the other, i.e., major to minor etc. Let’s look at the theory, explore each of the above ideas and find a place for this exciting color on our artist palette.

There are many important aspects of this whole tone color, which are for the most part created by the absence of a half step interval anywhere in it's intervalic formula. With no leading tone, as experienced in the major scale, the consecutive whole steps potentially give equal tonal "weight" to all of the pitches within the group, and thus no single pitch overwhelmingly emerges as a tonic. From each of the pitches within the group, symmetrical interval lines can be created in major seconds, major thirds, augmented fourths ( tritones ), augmented fifths and augmented sixth's, the augmented sixth being perhaps more commonly labeled the "flat, blue or dominant seventh." Let's examine each interval.

The one octave whole tone scale is simply a series of six consecutive whole steps. It is a non diatonic, hybrid scale and generally is not associated with any key signature of either the major or minor tonal environment. Lets build a whole tone scale from the root C. We do this using the interval of a whole step or major second. Example 3.

intervalic formula whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step
pitches of the C whole tone scale C D E F# G# A# (Bb) C

Here is the music created from the above pitches. Example 3a.

wt3.TIF (6660 bytes)

Thinking in major thirds, 2 whole steps, we can create an interesting loop of pitches. Example 3b.

pairing the major thirds

C to E D to F# E to G# F# to A# G# to C Bb to D

Here is a melodic idea in thirds. Example 3c.

wt4.TIF (7194 bytes)

When three whole steps are combined together, they create the interval of a tritone. Due to the symmetry of the intervalic formula, each of the pitches of the scale can be grouped in six pairs of tritones. Pairing tritones of the C whole tone scale. Example 4.

pairing the tritones

C to F# D to G# E to Bb F# to C G# to D Bb to E

Here is a melodic permutation alternating up and down tritone intervals. Example 4a.

wt5.TIF (7264 bytes)

Six tritones in one group of pitches mean lots of potential resolutions. Realizing the permutation potential of the whole tone group with the ideas above perhaps begins to explain the this group’s elusive color in relation to the tonicized world of equal temperament and the forces of tonal gravity. These attributes, the absence of a half step interval ( thus no leading tone ), and the six major third / tritone pairings contained within the group help define the color and provide fundamental ways to initially employ the whole tones unique color.

When four whole steps are combined together, they create the interval of a augmented fifth. Adding this interval to the root and major 3rd creates the augmented triad. Due to the symmetry of the intervalic formula, each of the pitches of the scale can be grouped in six pairs of this interval. Pairing augmented fifths from the C whole tone scale. Example 5.

pairing the augmented fifths

C to G# D to A# E to C F# to D G# to E A# to F#

Here is a melodic idea in augmented fifths. Example 5a.

wt6.TIF (7210 bytes)

When five whole steps are combined together, they create the interval of a minor seventh. Due to the symmetry of the intervalic formula, each of the pitches of the scale can be grouped in six pairs of this interval. Pairing blue sevenths of the C whole tone scale. Example 6.

pairing the blue 7th's

C to A# (Bb) D to C E to D F# to E G# to F# Bb to Ab (G#)

Here is a melodic idea in blue sevenths. Example 6a.

wt7.TIF (7276 bytes)

For the improvising musician, wider interval lines are more difficult to execute, but they are very distinctive and provide a nice contrast and balance to a more horizontally scaler, linear or arpeggiated approach.

With the above intervalic ideas in mind, looking at what’s "in between" the pitches of the C augmented group, we can create a second whole tone group of pitches. Here is a chart of the pitches of the two groups. Example 7.

C D E F# G# A# (Bb) C
Db Eb F G A B Db

Any guesses as to the intervalic formula to creating the group of pitches from Db? Lets recreate the above chart and musical example using Db as our root or fundamental. Example 8.

intervalic formula whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step whole step
Db whole tone scale Db Eb F G A B Db

Look familiar? Right, consecutive whole steps. Are there any pitches we have not used? What group of pitches is created if we combine the letter names of the whole tone scales built from the roots of C and Db? Let’s add them together and see. Example 9.

C D E F# G# A# (Bb) C

+ Db

Eb F G A B Db
C Db
D Eb
E F
F# G
G# A
A# B
C Db

If you answered the chromatic scale, cool! If you chose a different answer, what aspect of the theory or combinations of pitches is unclear? Are you hip to the chromatic group of pitches? Try to isolate the confusion then sort out the elements, then recrunch them down. Like certain mathematical concepts, this whole tone theory "perfectly" closes on itself, regardless of letter names or starting point.

If combining these two distinct whole tone scales together covers all of the pitches of the chromatic scale, does it stand to reason that we would be able to extract whatever whole tone group of pitches is necessary for use in the combined 24 major and minor key centers from either of these two groups? Yes it does. Simple but way cool, the perfect symmetry of the intervalic construction of the whole tone color allows for any one pitch to become the letter name from which to identify the group. These two distinct whole step groupings cover all the melodic and harmonic possibilities created by the 24 tonal centers of the major and minor tonal environments. It is all a matter of respelling the pitches to fulfill the requirements dictated by whatever tonal center is being employed. Here are the pitches of the C and Db whole tone scale spelt from each of its six possible roots. Example 10.

"C" whole tone scale /

6 different roots

"Db" whole tone scale /

6 different roots

C

D

E

Gb

Ab

Bb

C

Db

Eb

F

G

A

B

Db

D

E

F#

G#

A#

C

D

Eb

F

G

A

B

Db

Eb

E

F#

G#

Bb

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

Db

Eb

F

F#

G#

A#

C

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C#

D#

F

G

G#

A#

C

D

E

F#

G#

A

B

C#

D#

F

G

A

Bb

C

D

E

Gb

Ab

Bb

B

C#

D#

F

G

A

B

So any pitch of either scale can become the root of that grouping of pitches? So, can we build an augmented triad from each pitch? Exactly. Cool huh? Respelling the groups enharmonically above is based on trying to label the pitches as closely to the major scale of the same root. Cool with this? Here are the 12 whole tone scales written out to help get them under your fingers. The root scheme of the following examples follows the cycle of fifths. Example 11.

C whole tone scale

wt8.TIF (6662 bytes)

G whole tone scale

wt9.TIF (6872 bytes)

D whole tone scale

wt10.TIF (7022 bytes)

A whole tone scale

wt11.TIF (6790 bytes)

E whole tone scale

wt12.TIF (7094 bytes)

B whole tone scale

wt13.TIF (6950 bytes)

F# whole tone scale

wt14.TIF (7478 bytes)

Db whole tone scale

wt15.TIF (6982 bytes)

Ab whole tone scale

wt16.TIF (6660 bytes)

Eb whole tone scale

wt17.TIF (6960 bytes)

Bb whole tone scale

wt18.TIF (7014 bytes)

F whole tone scale

wt19.TIF (6804 bytes)

So where do we employ the whole tone color in our music? Well, potentially lots of places. Click improvisation for some ideas, or perhaps augmented chords for a look at the harmony created by this unique musical configuration and color. If the color sounds a bit off, no worries, it usually takes a while for it to make sense. The key thing perhaps at this juncture is to recognize it exists, recognize the sound and look for it in the music your listening to.

Where to next?
review new ideas
WB01337_.gif (904 bytes) WB01339_.gif (896 bytes)

"Please... let me learn by my own mistakes."

Tamzen Crocker