I'm trying to improve my music theory knowledge and there's one thing that I don't understand. Basically, for instance the song "Master of Puppets" by Metallica is in E minor, and E minor scale has 7 semi notes in it. But they kind of use all of the semi notes. You know, you start on the 12th fret on the E string and go all the way back to the open string.

So when I look at the E minor scale, it doesn't fit the song. But the music doesn't sound weird. How come when they use all the semitones, from that open E string to 12th fret of the same string it doesn't sound bad, but when I try to make a melody with the same technique, it sounds odd?

I've looked at types of scales and there are different types of scales which has different combinations of semi notes. Like pentatonic, chromatic... Is it possible that they combine the scales all together?

"Holy Wars" by Megadeth also has like 3 semi notes in a row in the intro. They go 5-6-7 on A, then 5-6-7 on E. That song doesn't fit in any scale either. Does it sound weird? No. It sounds amazing.

But in one particular scale, I've only seen 2 semi notes in a row. So basically the question is, what scale are we using when we're playing more than 2 semi notes in a row? Thank you in advance. 
Probably just passing/chromatic notes, most of the odd notes are played in a weak part of the bar and played fairly short.
Or you could could think of it as borrowing notes from a mode. I like to think MOP borrows notes from E Phrygian.
Say your in the key of A major you could borrow G major from A minor (or Mixolydian), normal the chord before G would be a note in both A maj and A min (D for example)

Then you get Harmonice Minor chords, (in A minor you get a E7,G#dim,Caug) and Melodic minor ( Cmin,Ebaug,F7,G7, Adim, Bdim)

Also secondary dominates, so in E minor you could use A7 then resolve to D, this would be called the secondary dominant of the b7 chord (I think?)
Last edited by Guitar137335 at Apr 21, 2017,
It's just a lot of chromatic stuff, very common in metal. You don't have to just stick to the notes from the scale that relates to the key you're in, you can add any or all if you want to. (Holy Wars is in E minor too). If you try to construct a melody using those type of notes, then that may sound odd because melodic is kind of the opposite of chromatic
But you can have a kind of chromatic melody, see this :

btw there are scales which do have 3 notes all in a row, e.g. the blues scale = minor pentatonic with the added flat 5th
E blues scale - E, G, A, Bb, B, D
or Hungarian Minor
A Hungarian Minor - A, B, C, D#, E, F, G#

Metallica - Jump in the Fire riff uses the G blues scale.
Last edited by NSpen1 at Apr 21, 2017,
the reason scales are designed the way they are is for an "optimal" and easy-to-understand way the diatonic notes and chords pull towards the tonic. in short, they eliminate a certain amount of inherent dissonance to make sure the tonic is solidified

this is kind of a null approach to metal for 2 reasons: 1) metal wants to be dissonant, it wants to be in your face and "wrong." 2) in both Holy Wars and Master of Puppets, have the song is pedalling on that low E string. you'd be hard pressed to make the tonic anything else, so there's no need to use diatonic harmony to force it towards a specific tonic when it's already such a major aspect of the composition

it's important to remember that scales are very loose guidelines, and i typically use them as a good way to remember/label the purposes of intervals rather than telling me what i need to do with them.

in western music, we've got 12 tones. over a given chord, typically we've given the root, 3rd, fifth, and maybe 7th of the scale. every other note you play will work, regardless of scale, if you use it correctly. The issue is when a chordf is playing, say, a C major triad (C E G) and you are soloing over it doing whatever. if you hit a C#, it's gonna sound like shit because it's right next to the root note (which destabilizes the tonic). the same idea applies to notes adjacent to the E or G. but if you hit them in passing, and don't just grind on that note for a full measure, it can sound fresh and interesting without being cloyingly dissonant

metal is even easier. there's pretty much always a root, then there's the 5th. there's very little specificity to each chord, which makes it easy to play any notes you want at virtually any time, and it relies on the chord progression to tell you the key. if you took a metal song in E minor and changed all the power chords on the 3rd fret to the 4th, odds are it'd suddenly be in a major key (and probably sound terrible)

tl;dr, note selection is arbitrary, and scales aren't gonna help you except to give you a stencil of what notes won't usually play well together when played at the same time
modes are a social construct
Scales can have different numbers of notes and different spacing configurations of those notes.

Chromatic scale has 12 notes all in a row chromatically
Diminished scale has 8 notes
Diatonic scale has 7 notes (the major and minor scales)
Augmented scale has 6 notes
Wholetone scale has 6 notes
BeBop Scale has 6 notes with 3 in a row chromatically
Blues scale has 6 notes with 3 in a row chromatically
Pentatonic scale has 5 notes
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Byzantine, Hungarian minor.
7 notes. 1 group of 3 notes in a row chromatically.

Persian Scale.
7 notes. 2 groups of 3 notes in a row chromatically.

If you are playing an E minor scale, and slowly bend say the D note up to E, how many notes are you playing in between?
It's all about the note you came from, the note you are going to, and how you got there. Which notes are emphasized and which aren't.

You can play Mary Had A Little lamb, In G Major, fill in all the gaps chromatically, and it will still sound fine, still be in G Major, still be recognizable as the original tune, but maybe a bit jazzy or swingy, depending how you approach it.
Scales are just collections of pitches that have a certain sound. For example if you use the minor 3rd of the key, that is going to give you a minor key sound and if you use the major 3rd of the key, that's going to give you a major key sound. Many songs use notes outside of the scale. But as said above, how you use those notes is really important. Most chromatic notes are just passing tones.

I do think scales are needed to understand the basics of keys and harmony. But you should not treat them as a rule. Remember that music comes first, theory is just a way of describing what's happening in music. It's just a generalization - the notes in a certain scale are just usually used together. They are just labels for certain sounds that are generally used in music.

When it comes to notes that don't seem to fit the major or minor scale, it usually doesn't make sense to start to look for some kind of an exotic scale and use that as an explanation for the accidentals. Or it depends on the song we are talking about, but in most cases I would say it doesn't make much sense.

If you want to write chromatic stuff that sounds good, you need to get familiar with how other people use chromaticism. Learning the sound is important. If you don't understand the sound, why are you expecting yourself to be able to come up with chromatic melodies that "make sense"? My point is, use your ears. Noodling around with a scale is most likely not going to result in anything that sounds good or makes sense because it's random and there is no direction. Composing/songwriting is not random. If you want to compose something that "makes sense", know what you are after.

But yeah, if you want to start experimenting with chromatic stuff, start with chromatic passing tones. If you have a melody that goes like C D E or whatever, maybe try adding a C# between the C and D or D# between the D and E and see how that sounds like. Another important thing is learning about harmony. You of course need to understand diatonic harmony first, but after that start learning about non-diatonic chords. So instead of only thinking about scales, I would suggest focusing on harmony and the direction of the melodic line.

Very similar to the intro of MOP. The chromaticism makes sense because it's just a way of moving between the two chords - Em and C. Master of puppets begins with exactly the same chords (Em and C). Actually, you could see the first 20 seconds of MOP as just alternating between Em and C because those are the chords that get emphasis. So it could be analyzed as Em - passing tones (descending towards our target, C) - C - passing tones (descending towards our target, E) - Em.

Why does it emphasize Em and C? Em is where it starts from and where it ends so that's why it gets emphasis (and it's also because of the pedal E). C gets emphasis because longer time is spent on it than the other notes/chords, and that's why it stands out.

And as Hail said, chromaticism in metal makes sense because it sounds dissonant and that's the sound that these bands are after. They probably didn't know much about theory (or at least they most likely didn't think about theory when they wrote those riffs), they just knew the sound that they were after. It sounds dissonant and "evil" and it fits the mood of the song. If you are after an "evil" sound, just find intervals that sound evil. The tritone is obvious, but I think it just makes sense to listen to music that sounds "evil" and see what intervals they use (and in this case by "intervals" I'm referring to scale degrees - the interval between the tonic and the other notes).
Quote by AlanHB
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