The Whole Tone Scale (colour code chart here)

There are only 2 whole tone scales.



If you start a whole tone scale from C:

(C, D, E, F#, G#, Bb, C)

...and then continue to move the scale shape (see diagram below) up every 2 frets on the guitar:

(D, E, F#, G#, Bb, C, D) etc...

...you get the same notes.

The same process occurs when you start on C#:

(C#, D#, F, G, A, B, C#)

...continue to move the scale shape up every 2 frets:

(D#, F, G, A, B, C#, D#) etc...

This consequence therefore yields only 2 whole tone scales.

A chord that can be constructed from the scale is the dominant #5, but first the notes of a one octave C whole tone scale:

C D E F# G# Bb C

The construction of the C7#5 chord:

C E G# Bb

Apart from its immediate relation the dominant #5 chord, the whole tone scale can be quite difficult to use. I prefer to use it in arpeggiated form, you can get more mileage out of it that way. Playing over a C7#11 you can construct a whole tone arpeggio starting from F#, here is the content of the arpeggio:

1 3 #5 8
F# Bb D F#

8 F# OCTAVE AUGMENTED 4th (#4) in relation to C7#11
#5 D D MAJOR 2nd (9) in relation to C7#11
3 Bb MINOR 7th (b7) in relation to C7#11
1 F# AUGMENTED 4th (#4) in relation to C7#11 (from the bottom up)

Whole Tone Example 1

You may recognise the notes as belonging to the lydian dominant scale this is because there are whole tone arpeggios within the lydian dominant and so this is a way of implying the whole tone sound over the lydian dominant chord. Apart from F# you can build the whole tone arpeggio from Bb or D and it will fit over the C7#11 no problem.

Now, if we think of the modes of the jazz melodic minor scale for a moment and the interrelationship between the chords; C7#11 is the 4th chord built from the G jazz melodic minor scale, its parent scale, so the C7#11 and G min/maj7 chords are interchangeable as they belong to the same scale, except they start on different notes, check the jazz melodic minor mode page for a recap on this.

So, if we imagine a chord vamp based on G jazz melodic minor we can play the same whole tone arpeggios as we played over the C7#11 chord.

1 3 #5 8
F# Bb D F#

8 F# OCTAVE MAJOR 7 in relation to Gmin/maj7
#5 D PERFECT 5th in relation to Gmin/maj7
3 Bb MINOR 3rd in relation to Gmin/maj7
1 F# MAJOR 7 in relation to Gmin/maj7

There are other ways of using the whole tone sound, you could take a 3 or 4 note pattern and move it up tone by tone:

Whole Tone Example 2

Another whole tone device that can be heard while listening to some jazz pianists are parallel 4ths moving upwards tone by tone. The example below could be used to create tension whilst supported by a C minor7 or F7 chordal accompaniment that often is supported by the pianist himself.

Example 3