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Jazz Guitar Lessons

Helpful Tips When Using a Whole Tone Scale



In this episode of the Anderson Files, jazz guitarist Chuck Anderson provides a quick lesson on the Whole Tone Scale.

Let’s talk about the whole tone scale. It’s obvious how to build it – one whole step between each 2 notes. It is a 6 note or hexatonic scale so it is not the typical 7 note traditional or modal scale nor is it the more contemporary 5 note or Pentatonic scale.

It is usually used over an augmented chord or a 7#5 or 7b5. 

One problem for guitar players is that it can not be played in a 4 fret span. Many players avoid it for just this reason alone. A stretch or slide, etc must be used to find a fluent fingering for this scale. Once you have a good fingering for the whole tone, you run into a second problem. It sounds like a soap opera scene in which a patient is in a coma.

The best way to overcome this undesirable effect is to add chromatic passing tones within the scale. Assume C whole tone. C D E F# G# A# C (also notated C D E Gb Ab Bb C) You can connect the C to D by adding a C#(Db). You can connect the D to E with a D#(Eb) You can connect the E to F# with an F. Connect the F# to G# with a G, and finally, the A# to C with a B. Clearly, these are no longer 6 note scales but they have the same applications as the 6 note whole tone scale.

Any and all of the connections are good. Most start with 1 connecting tone and then build from there.

Another popular technique is to replace the #4 with a 4 – you would then continue as before.

C D E F G# A# C   

This has the effect of driving the scale forward into a resolving chord.

There are many other exotic applications of this scale but if you apply the techniques outlined in this article, it will give you more variety in your use of the whole tone scale.

More JGT lessons from Chuck Anderson.

And check out Chuck’s 6 album sampler!

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