I’m going to start by saying that whole tone scales are unlike any other discussed so far.  They are made up solely of whole tone intervals which results in 6 note scales which we tend to play in any sequence.  This means there are only 2 whole tone scales which are separated by a semi-tone.  Additionally this means they don’t have a fixed Key.

So you may be wondering what is the point of them – well, if you want your music to sound unpredictable, then these are for you, especially if you add in a large dollop of syncopation.  I haven’t used them very often, I tend to find them a bit unsettling.  So I guess they’re kind of like the H P Lovecraft of scales.

If we start with an E note and move in whole tones, we get  E  F#  G#  A#  C  D

Compared to the major scale  : E F# G# A B C# D# E this gives us 1, 3, b5, #5, b7, 9  (It’s probably better to consider the F# as a 9 rather than a 2)

If we start a semi-tone higher at an F note and move in whole tones, we get  F  G  A  B  C#  D#

Compared to the major scale : F G A Bb C D E  this again gives us 1, 3, b5, #5, b7, 9

This means they tend to be used over dominant chords with a b5 or #5 (or both).  Typically a dominant 7 chord will be used.  A dominant 9 can be used but they are not that common.

The reason I started with an E note rather than a C note is that it makes them very easy to play on a single string (audio here):


We can then move this pattern up a semi-tone to give us the F version (audio here).


Example chords to play over are an E9b5 chord (could also be called a Bb7 b5#5) and we can use the notes E F# G# A# C D E in any sequence we like so that we are not really determining a Key.  An example pattern is shown below the chord (audio here):

Chords 2-page0001 - Copy


A more common chord is D7b5:

Chords 2-page0001

Example patterns are shown below (audio here):


and also a second pattern (audio here):


If we transpose these chords up or down a semi-tone then the notes from the ‘F’ example will fit over the top of them.