The Wholetone Scale

The wholetone scale is constructed using a series of whole tones. Written enharmonically, the A sharp in the following example, is a tone away from the octave C note, not shown. (Throughout this article, enharmonic equivalents will be used to clarify examples and for ease of reading).

Wholetone scale

Like the octatonic scale, the wholetone scale divides the octave into equal divisions: into major seconds (tones),

Tone division

major thirds,

M3

and, into tritones.

Tritone

The symmetry of the scale’s intervallic structure means any segment of the scale will produce the same set of intervals: recurring tones.

Scale fragments - tones

There are only two wholetone scales, beginning on the notes C and C sharp (in the second scale, the E sharp written enharmonically is a tone from G).

2 wholetone scales

Excluding extended chords (such as ninths, elevenths, thirteenth etc), a harmonised wholetone scale produces the following six augmented triads

Aug triads

and six altered dominant (dominant seventh sharp five) chords.

Dom7sharp5

The altered dominant seventh chords resolve to the following major and parallel minor keys

Dom7sharp5 res keys

The root notes of these keys form the second wholetone scale.

Res notes 2nd wholetone scale

Similarly, the second wholetone scale’s altered dominant seventh chords resolve to keys whose root notes form the first wholetone scale.

Res notes 1st wholetone scale

The augmented triads found in the first wholetone scale are also found in the following harmonic and melodic minor scales.

Aug T + scales copy

The root notes of these keys form the second wholetone scale.

Second wholetone scale

As expected, the root notes of the harmonic and melodic minor scales of the second wholetone scale creates the first wholetone scale.

1st wholetone scale

The first wholetone scale also contains scale degrees 5 – 6 – 7 of the following major scales and their parallel minor scales. The root notes of these keys create the second wholetone scale.

567 1st wholetone scale

The second wholetone scale contains the 5 – 6 – 7 scale degrees of the following keys, the root notes of which create the first wholetone scale.

567 res wholetone scale

Composers have utilised the wholetone scale’s unique construction in several ways: as a basis for structuring passages in larger works: in this example, the bass descends in a series of major thirds, the root notes of each support major triads;

M3 prog

as a harmonic basis for compositions: the above idea may be used as a basis for a complete work; and as melodic devices for colouring chords and textures; the above example could utilise the notes of the wholetone scale to link the larger structural thirds.

Melodic wholetone

In Jazz, also, the wholetone scale is one of the many scale choices available for musicians to use during improvisation.

 

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