using the whole tone scale

The whole tone scale is made up entirely of whole steps and only has six notes.  For example, the C whole tone scale is: C D E F# G# A#, and the Db whole tone scale is: Db Eb F G A B.  Technically, there are only two whole tone scales, because if you were to start one on D, you would have: D E F# G# A# C, which are the same notes as the first scale above.

The most obvious use of the whole tone scale is for augmented dominant seventh chords, for example, the second chord of “Take the A Train.”  The tune goes: C6 (or Cmaj7) for two bars, then D+7 for two bars.  You can play whole tone starting from D, and get the major third, sharp five, and flat seven that make up that chord.

A less obvious use of this scale is for ANY dominant seven chord.  It’s especially fun to do later in a blues solo.  Say you’ve played about 2 choruses and going into the third chorus of an F blues.  The first four bars of the form is over an F7, so why not try it here?  It adds quite a bit of interest, and is spelled F G A B C# Eb.  Then resolve it to Bb mixolydian.

This also works in ii V I progressions.  If we go to the user friendly Dmin G7 Cmaj7, try playing F major pentatonic over Dmin, the G whole tone over G7, then C lydian over Cmaj7.   It gives you a nice outer space sound in the middle of your solo.  Enjoy!


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