Other Important Scales
Major scales, minor scales, and modes make up the majority of the scales encountered in Western music. However, they are not the only important scales; scales come in many different shapes and sizes, especially as you move throughout history.
Pentatonic scales contain only five notes per octave as opposed to major and minor scales, which contain seven. The name pentatonic reflects this distinction as the prefix of pentatonic is penta, Greek for “five”—tonic means “tones” or “notes.” The pentatonic scales are widely used in folk, liturgical, rock, and jazz music. Pentatonic scales come in two varieties: major and minor.
The familiar old sea chantey “What Do We Do with the Drunken Sailor?” is actually composed using a modal scale: the Dorian mode. Another famous example of modes is the theme to The Simpsons, which uses the Lydian mode for its main theme. Modes are all around us; they are often used in film and TV soundtracks as well.
The major pentatonic is a five-note scale derived from the major scale. It simply omits two notes—the fourth and seventh tones—from the major scale.
In the key of G, the major pentatonic scale is G–A–B–D–E. Stated another way, the G major pentatonic is the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes of a major scale. See FIGURE 6.8.
FIGURE 6.8 The Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic is a mainstay of folk, blues, rock, and country music. Famous melodies such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “London Bridge” were composed using only the major pentatonic scale. If you like to improvise solos, the major pentatonic is a basic and essential scale for improvisation over major tonalities found in music genres such as rock, jazz, and blues.
The minor pentatonic scale is also derived from a scale with two notes omitted (just not the same ones as the major pentatonic). A minor pentatonic scale leaves out the second and sixth tones from a natural (or more formally, Aeolian) minor scale. In the key of D, a minor pentatonic scale is D–F–G–A–C. You could also say that the scale is the first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh notes of a natural minor scale. See FIGURE 6.9.
FIGURE 6.9 The Minor Pentatonic Scale
The whole-tone scale is built entirely with whole steps. Because it uses the same intervals, the whole-tone scale is considered a symmetric scale. Using whole steps from C, a C whole-tone scale is C–D–E–F#–G#–A#. Note that the whole-tone scale is a six-note scale (see figure 6.10). Not five notes like our pentatonic scales, or seven notes like major and minor scales, but six.
figure 6.10 The Whole-Tone Scales: C and D
There are only two different whole-tone scales. Forming whole-tone scales from anywhere other than C or D will yield the same notes as the C or D whole-tone scales. See for yourself in FIGURE 6.11.
FIGURE 6.11 C and D Whole-Tone Scales
Notice how both the C and D whole-tone scales contain the same notes. This makes them very easy to learn and play. You see whole-tone scales in romantic music and jazz music.
Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk loved the whole-tone scale and used it in many of his recorded improvised jazz solos. The whole-tone scale was his trademark. He wasn't the first to use it, but boy, did he like it!
The last scale is also symmetric and is built using repeating intervals. The diminished scale is based on repeating intervals, always half steps and whole steps. There are two varieties of diminished scales: one that starts with the pattern of whole step, half step intervals, and one that uses a half step, whole step interval pattern. FIGURE 6.12 shows the two varieties of diminished scales, both starting from C. Diminished scales are also called octatonic, which is Greek for eight-note scale. This is the first scale that exceeds seven individual notes.
FIGURE 6.12 The Two Types of Octatonic/Diminished Scales
There are only three unique diminished scales. Diminished scales spelled from C, C#, and D are the only diminished scales that utilize unique tone sets. Spelling diminished scales from other roots will yield repeating scales, with the identical tones from C, C#, or D diminished. Composers, theorists, and jazz players use diminished scales primarily.
ETUDE 6.1 Etude One
Spell modal scales from each note
ETUDE 6.2 Etude Two
Spell modal scales from each note
ETUDE 6.3 Etude Three
Spell major pentatonic scales from each note
ETUDE 6.4 Etude Four
Spell minor pentatonic scales from each note
ETUDE 6.5 Etude Five
Spell the following scales from each note