Whole Tone Tips Part 2

October 1, 2009

Last month, we dove into the theory behind the whole tone scale and explored some creative ways to play with it. This month, we go deeper, using the whole tone scale for more complex melodies and figures. Remember to dial up the metronome and start slowly — and don’t forget to listen to masters like McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane for inspiration!

Click the thumbnails to open bigger images of the sheet music.

Ex. 1. In 1a, the right hand can be played up an octave, or in the middle of the treble clef. The G common tones anchor the moving voicings. This type of movement can be heard on some Coltrane recordings, with McCoy Tyner. With a slight adjustment in 1b, we now have two-hand voicings which contain all six notes of the whole tone scale. Click here for audio.


Ex. 2. Scale tone triads (in this case all augmented triads), which move up in whole steps, can be an effective melodic device. In 2a, we make a four-note pattern out of three notes. Don’t neglect the opposing whole tone scale — 2b shows another exercise with scale tone chords, this time ascending and descending in triplets. 2c shows another scale tone triad pattern, played by McCoy. Click here for audio.


Ex. 3. In 3a, we have a line that outlines a scale tone triad (Dbaug), and continues with a scalar passage. With the addition of two chromatic tones (Dn and Ab) in 3b, we can tie two augmented triads (Gaug and Dnaug) together in a line. Click here for audio.


Ex. 4. Taking Example 3 a step further, we now outline three augmented triads (Gaug, Baug, and Ebaug), linking them with chromatic tones (C, F, and E), to create a triplet-based line which floats over the chords in 4a. These three augmented triads are actually the same one, in its inversions. When you get comfortable in the use of whole tone scales, the next step is to play opposing whole tone scales within the same line, to create even more intensity. You can also play the whole tone scale over minor chords; just use the whole tone scale built on the fifth of the minor chord. Example 4b could be used over a Cm7, as well as a G7aug. With whole tone scales, the sky’s the limit! Click here for audio.


Want to learn more about whole tone scales?

CDs: John Coltrane, One Down, One Up (Impulse); Wayne Shorter, Ju Ju (Blue Note)
Book: Chords in Motion, Andy LaVerne (Jamey Aebersold Jazz)

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