Hexatonic: The Whole Tone Scales

author: kfleetwood date: 10/06/2008 category: scales
rating: 7.7 / votes: 7 
The whole tone scale is easy enough to learn, but is rarely found in rock music. There are only two whole tone scales, each consisting of six notes per octave (hexatonic), and each note is evenly spaced with no half tones. The entire scale is built on whole-step intervals. A triad built on this scale would be, Root, Major Third, Raised (#) Fifth, which is an augmented chord ( Aug. or + ). Here is a two-octave view of the whole-tone scale layed out on the piano:
| |B| |B| | |B| |B| |B| | |B| |B| | |B| |B| |B| |
| | | | | | |X| |X| |X| | | | | | | |X| |X| |X| |
| |_| |_| | |_| |_| |_| | |_| |_| | |_| |_| |_| |
|X | X | X|  |   |   |  |X | X | X|  |   |   |  |
|__|___|__|__|___|___|__|__|___|__|__|___|___|__|_
 C   D   E   F#  G#  A#  C   D   E   F#  G#  A#
PIANO
B=Black keys    X=scale note

| |B| |B| | |B| |B| |B| | |B| |B| | |B| |B| |B| |
| |X| |X| | | | | | | | | |X| |X| | | | | | | | |
| |_| |_| | |_| |_| |_| | |_| |_| | |_| |_| |_| |
|  |   |  |X | X | X | X|  |   |  |X | X | X | X|
|__|___|__|__|___|___|__|__|___|__|__|___|___|__|_
   C#  D#  F   G   A   B   C#  D#  F   G   A   B
You see on the piano that the scale altenates between groups of black and white keys. On the guitar, using Standard tuning, the scale pattern looks like diagonals mostly, or diamonds, with the exception being the G and B strings. Guitar fretboard:
                   5th                         12th
e|O---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|-
B||-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-
G||-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|--
D|O---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|--
A||-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|--
E|O---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|-
X=scale notes Whole-tones fit well over augmented chords.
e|---2---4---6---|---2---6---10---|-----------------|
B|---3---5---7---|---3---7---11---|---2-------8-----|
G|---3---5---7---|---3---7---11---|---2---6---10----|
D|---2---4---6---|---4---8---12---|---3---7---11----|
A|---------------|----------------|---4---6---10----|
E|---------------|----------------|-------7---------|
Whole-tone isn't strictly for augmented chords. In our song Hard Hard (c), we play the whole-tone scale over this type of progression in the instrumental break:
    G  C# A  D#    B        C    C#      D      D#
e|---------------|-------------|--------------|-----|
B|-----6-----8---|-7-------8---|-9-------10---|-11---
G|--4--6--6--8---|-8-------9---|-10------11---|-12--
D|--5--6--7--8---|-9-------10--|-11------12---|-13--
A|--5--4--7--6---|-9-------10--|-11------12---|-13--
E|--3-----5------|-7-------8---|-9-------10---|-11--
    /  /  /  /     /  /  /  /    /  /  /   /    /  / ...
Listen to the song Insomnia on mp3. Our song Insomnia (c) was written entirely for the whole-tone scale:
e|-----------------|---------||
B|-----------------|---------||
G|-5---3-----------|---------||
D|---4---2-4---2---|---------||
A|-----------3---1-|-3---1-3-||
E|-----------------|---2-----||
   / . / . / . / .   / . / .

e|-----------------|-----------------|
B|-----------------|-----------------|
G|-----------------|-----------------|
D|-----------------|-------------4/6-|
A|-----------------|-------------5/7-|
E|-0-0-2-0-0-4-0-0-|-6-0-0-8-0-0-----|
   / . / . / . / .   / . / . / . / .

e|------------------|-----------------|-------------------|
B|------------------|-----------------|-------------------|
G|------------------|-----------------|-------------------|
D|-6-4--------------|-----------------|------------4------|
A|-----7-5-9-7------|-7-5-----5-3-----|---5p3--3-5---3h5--|
E|-------------10-8-|-----6-4-----4-2-|-4----4------------|
   / . / . / . /  .   / . / . / . / .   / .  / . / . /  . etc
(sample) The whole-tone scale fits well into impressionistic compositions. Two renown classical composers who used the whole-tone scale: Bla Bartk, Claude Debussy Voiles - Prelude 2 , Book 1. Whole tones do give the feeling of restlessness, due to its lack of tonal center and absence of leading notes or half tones. Insomnia is a good example of the possibilities of the whole tone scale. Listen to Insomnia. The Hexatonic was one of the earliest scales I learned, mainly because of my pal who got me into the progressive sound of King Crimson.
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