Parrallel Scales And The British Invasion

A brief look at Parrallel scales, what they are and how to use them, the way bands such as The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles made great use of in the 1960's.

Ultimate Guitar
What is a parallel scale? Parallel Scales are a very simple concept that can be used very effectively in songwriting. First I will outline what they are, then I will give examples of where there can be used, and famous examples of their usage. Parallel scales are scales that are not usually associated with each other, but have the same root note (or the same root note but in different key signatures). For example, the C major scale and the C minor scale are parallel scales. Their use together can sound messy, but, through their extensive use in popular music, particularly rock'n'roll, our ears are used to the sound of parallel scales merging, though we may not know it. The use of parallel scales tends to be in rhythm guitar playing, particularly in rock'n'roll, although it could be argued that many of the blues guitarists most used licks fit in quite nicely with the concept of parallel scales (the unusual combination of major and minor chordal tones create tension and release, which is what makes the blues sound the way it does). How did British Invasion Rock Bands (as well as most rock bands since) use parallel scales to their advantage? Firstly, it must be noted that most of the bands that originally picked up the use of parallel scales did not understand the concept of them, and their use probably arose from a combination of young bands not knowing much theory and trying to emulate the feel and sound of the blues (aka the combination of major and minor chord tones). A couple of famous examples of songs making use of parallel scales are; All The Day and All The Night by The Kinks and I Can't Explain by The Who. The most common way parrallel scales are used in rock music is by taking the major and minor scale and choosing chords from both, rather than just sticking to major or minor. For example, lets take the C Major scale: C D E F G A B Next, lets take the C minor scale: C D Eb F G Ab Bb now we'll look at the chords within these scales:
Maj min min Maj Maj min Dim
C   D   E   F   G   A   B

min Dim Maj min min Maj Maj
C   D   Eb  F   G   Ab  Bb
Quite a common useage of the two together could be a minor chord sequence, but with a major root note. For Example:
    CMaj  EbMaj   BbMaj  CMaj
Eb Major and Bb Major are supposed to go with C minor, not C Major, but the moment those chords are played together most people can easily recognise a few songs at least that use those chords. Another common usage of Parallel scales is to start off sticking to one scale, before switching to the next, to signal a change in mood or just to make a different sounding section. We'll stick with C Major and C minor for this example, and we'll look at two different ways this usage can be implemented:
    Cmin   Fmin   BbMaj  AbMaj  Cmin   Fmin   BbMaj  AbMaj
 GMaj   FMaj   CMaj   GMaj   FMaj   CMaj
In this example, the first chord sequence (Cmin, Fmin, BbMaj and AbMaj) can be used as a verse section, before switching to the second chord sequence (GMaj, FMaj, CMaj) which is a more uplifiting chorus section. This is an effective songwriting technique. There is another of using this technique, that if used well can be flow more smoothly than just changing chord and changing key. This last example is commonly used in many pop and rock songs, and will probably sound familiar.
  CMaj  Amin  GMaj  FMaj  CMaj  Amin  GMaj  FMaj  Fmin Cmin
  AbMaj Fmin  Cmin
In this example, the first chord sequnce is major, whilst the second is minor. This time, the transition is done by letting the F Major chord ring, before changing to an F minor chord and then continuing the minor sequence. This can be an effective songwriting technique if used properly. To conclude, Parallel Scales are a simple method of playing with traditional songwriting techniques, and can add be used in almost anything you play. Play around with your scales, and see what you can come up with.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Indeed a good thing. I need things like this to make me pickup the guitar and try need things, as I'm sometimes bored or uninspired with my own improvisitions.
    I kick around with this kinda stuff constantly. Your examples are extremely good though, and definitely tie in well to pop-rock music, particularly that derived from or included in the British Invasion. Good stuff.
    I love using parallel scales. I know Alter Bridge uses them in Find the Real.
    I think 'Bark at the Moon' by Ozzy does this, between the main riff and the prechorus.
    Snowman388 wrote: i wish i understood
    Sorry i found it quite hard putting this article into words. Is there anything specific you didn't understand or was it just the general concept of parallel scales? if it was the general concept maybe try finding another article on it. perhaps if worded differently it might make more sense. If it was a specific aspect of the subject maybe I can help :