The Whole Tone Scale And The Emotions It Can Bring You Friday December 10 2021, 8:37 AM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
The Whole Tone Scale And The Emotions It Can Bring You

What Is A Whole Tone Scale?

The uncommon whole-tone scale consists of 6 tones that are each separated by a whole tone, making it a hexatonic scale.

Many common scales, like the major and minor scales, use a variety of half and whole-step intervals, but the whole-tone scale has two semitones (also known as half-steps) between each note.

Since a whole step separates each note, whole-tone scales do not have a leading tone. 

This symmetrical quality gives the scale a unique sound and makes it versatile for creating ambiguous or dream-like musical atmospheres.

Due to its symmetrical structure, the whole tone scale lacks a leading tone or a tonic note that provides a strong sense of resolution.

This characteristic contributes to the scale's ethereal and unresolved sound, making it useful for creating tension and uncertainty in music compositions.

Related Post: All About The Hungarian Minor Scale

How Do You Play The Whole Tone Scale?



There are only two ways to play through a whole tone scale. You can either start your scale with C and follow with D E F# G# A#, or you can start with C# and follow with D# F G A and B.

You can actually start the scales with any notes in either of the two ways you play it, but notice that both scales do not share any keys. 

When trying to play chords in this scale that are triads, you will notice that the only option for chords will be augmented chords.

In fact, there are really only two triads that you can play, and no matter how you invert the triads, they will sound alike. This rare scale really limits your options when it comes to chord progressions. 

Who Has Used The Whole Tone Scale In A Popular Song?

The whole tone scale is used at the beginning of Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life". The scale is used to demonstrate feelings of love and passionate curiosity that we as people can feel when we find someone with which we are deeply infatuated. 

Another well-known example of the whole tone scale is in many sections of King Crimson's "Fracture". King Crimson's sound was often explained as heavily influenced by classical composers and jazz composers.

Other examples of popular songs with whole-tone scale elements include John Coltrane's "One Down, One Up", Art Tatum's "Tiger Rag", and Claude Debussy's "Voiles". 

How Else Is The Whole Tone Scale Used? 

The whole tone scale is often used in television and movies in the background of a dream sequence, a magical sequence, or a situation where someone is going through an inner-thought process.

A popular example is the intro music to the classic 90s show "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" which details a young girl's exciting and chaotic life finding out about her powers.

The whole tone scale gives off a feeling of magic and wonder when it is played straight through. 

Another very popular example of where whole-tone scale elements appear in TV media is with The Simpsons theme song.

Certain sections of the intro theme music rely deeply on whole-tone scale elements to give off a sense of excitement and chaos, but the main scale it uses is the Lydian Dominant scale. 

The whole tone scale is commonly associated with impressionist and avant-garde music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel utilized the whole tone scale extensively in their works to evoke dreamy, otherworldly, or mystical moods.

In jazz and contemporary music, the whole tone scale is often used to create a sense of chromaticism and to add tension or dissonance to compositions.

Musicians and improvisers can apply the whole tone scale over dominant seventh chords to create altered dominant sounds or to create a sense of ambiguity by avoiding traditional tonal centers.

Related Post: The Simple Brilliance Of The Picardy Third

Tips For Using The Whole Tone Scale

Are you looking to experiment with this scale for your future song releases? Here are some tips to keep in mind to get the most out of it. 

Experiment With Different Starting Points

Since the whole tone scale lacks a specific tonal center, you have the freedom to start on any note within the scale. This allows for unique melodic possibilities. Try exploring different starting points to find interesting and unexpected musical ideas.


Create Dreamy Atmospheres

The whole tone scale is known for its ethereal and mysterious qualities.

Utilize long, flowing lines and sustained notes to evoke a dream-like atmosphere. Experiment with slow tempos, reverb effects, and delicate phrasing to enhance the scale's evocative nature to suck your listener's in. 

Combine The Whole Tone Scale With Other Scales

To add more variety and complexity to your compositions, try combining the whole tone scale with other scales or modes.

For example, you can experiment with blending the whole tone scale with the pentatonic scale, creating a fusion of Eastern and Western musical flavors.

Try Intervallic Patterns

The symmetrical structure of the whole tone scale lends itself well to intervallic patterns in your instrumentation and vocal lines.

Try incorporating ascending or descending patterns of intervals, such as thirds, fourths, or fifths, within the scale. This can add rhythmic interest and create a sense of continuity in your melodies or improvisations.


Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page.

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