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The Whole Tone Scale for Guitar


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Often one of the first symmetrical scales that many guitarists explore in their studies, the whole tone scale, is a cool-sounding dominant 7th scale that you can use to add tension to your 7th chords.

Being a symmetrical scale, the whole tone scale is built with only one interval between each note, the whole step, hence the name. When doing so, you form a scale that contains the 3rd, #11, #5 and b7 intervals (among others), which is why you can apply this scale to any 7#5 chord in your playing, or to any 7th chord when you want to bring a #11 and #5 sound to that chord change.

In this lesson you'll learn how to build and apply the whole tone scale to your jazz guitar playing, how to play various fingerings for this scale, apply scale patterns to these fingerings, and finally learn common whole tone scale licks and a sample blues solo that uses this scale in its construction.

 

What Is The Whole Tone Scale?

The whole tone scale is a six-note symmetrical scale, which is built by starting on the tonic note, then moving up in whole steps until you reach the next tonic note, 6 notes away. The whole tone scaled is used to solo over dominant 7#5 chords.

To help you visualize how the whole tone scale is constructed, here is a layout of the interval structure for the whole tone scale, as well as detailing how the whole steps (W) are used to create this six-note scale.

 

The Whole Tone Scale 1 9 3 #11 #5 b7 1
        W         W         W                W             W             W

 

 

Whole Tone Scale Fingerings

Armed with this theoretical knowledge of how to build and apply the whole tone scale, let’s move on to applying this scale to the fingerboard as you learn four common shapes for the whole tone scale in your studies.

To begin, here is a G whole tone scale with the root note on the 6th string, moving up in position from that starting note.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 1

 

Moving on, here is an in-position C whole tone scale, starting on the 5th string and moving up in position from that tonic note.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 2

 

The next G whole tone scale begins on the 6th string and uses a shifting fingering to move up from that starting point. When doing so, you are playing 3 notes on each string, using the same shape on each string as you climb your way up the fretboard.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 3

 

The final scale in this section is a C whole tone scale that begins on the 5th string and uses a shifting fingering to move up the fretboard from there.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 4

 

Once you have worked out any of these whole tone scales, put on a backing track, starting with 7th chords or 7#5 chords before moving on to ii-V-I’s and other progressions, and practice soloing over those backing tracks with the scale shapes fro this section of the lesson.

 

Whole Tone Scale Practice Patterns

With the four whole tone scale fingerings under your belt, let’s look at four variations of a scale pattern that you can use in your practice to expand your technique and knowledge of the whole tone scale on the fretboard.

While these patterns are written out over one fingering of a G whole tone scale, you can apply these patterns to any scale shape or key. As well, each pattern is written ascending up the scale shape, but feel free to work these patterns down each scale as you work them further in your studies.

 

The first scale pattern features ascending 3rds up the scale. This means that you play the first note of the scale, followed by the 3rd note, then the 2nd note, followed by the 4th note, and so on up the scale fingering.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 5

 

You will now reverse that pattern by applying descending 3rd intervals to your whole tone scale practice routine.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 6

 

In the next pattern, you will combine the first two patterns as you play up the first 3rd and down the second 3rd interval, continuing that alternating pattern throughout the scale.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 7

 

The final pattern features the reverse of the previous scale pattern, as now you are beginning with an ascending 3rd, followed by a descending third as you work this pattern through the scale.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 8

 

As was the case with the scale fingerings, once you have any of these scale patterns under your fingers, put on a backing track and begin to solo over 7th and 7#5 chords using the patterns from this section to build your improvised lines and phrases.

 

Whole Tone Scale Licks

Now that you have learned four fingerings for the whole tone scale, and four different scale patterns to work with those fingerings, let’s move on to studying this scale in a musical situation by working out the three sample licks below.

The first lick uses the G whole tone scale to solo over a G7#5 chord, the most direct application of this scale in a soloing situation.

 

Listen & Jam Along

Whole Tone Scale 9

 

The second lick uses the G whole tone scale over a G7, V7, chord in a short, two bar, ii-V-I progression in the key of C major, bringing a 7#5 sound to that part of the progression.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 10

 

The final lick in this section uses the G whole tone scale over the V7 chord, G7, as well as the VI7alt chord, A7alt, in a ii-V-I-VI progression in the key of C major. Again, bringing a 7#5 sound to both of those chords in the progression.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 11

 

After learning these three sample licks, try writing out a few licks of your own over these, and other, chord progressions using the whole tone scale to outline each 7th chord in those progressions.

 

Whole Tone Scale Blues Solo

To finish your introduction to the whole tone scale, here is a sample solo written over a I-IV-V blues progression in the key of G that you can learn and use in your studies and improvised solos.

Each four bar section of the solo is written as a stand-along phrase, so feel free to learn the solo one phrase at a time and then bring all 3 phrases together after that. Each time the whole tone scale is used over the chords, it’s used at least once over each chord G7-C7-D7, it will be labelled above the tab in the music so you know where it sits in the solo.

 

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Whole Tone Scale 12

 

 

 


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