The Whole Tone Scale | Jazz Guitar Lesson with Diagrams and Patterns

What is The Whole Tone Scale?

The whole tone scale is a symmetrical scale formed by a succession of whole tone intervals. It is a hexatonic scale made up of six notes that divide the octave in six equal notes. It  has no leading tone because all tones are the same distance apart.

The whole-tone scale can be used to add tensions to your jazz guitar improvisations over dominant 7th chords. Indeed, it contains a raised eleventh (or #11) and a raised fifth (#5) that can bring interesting new colors to your solos. 

How is Built the Whole Tone Scale?

There are only two complementary whole tone scales :

C whole tone scale C D E F# G# A#
Db whole tone scale Db Eb F G A B
Intervals W W W W W W
Formula 1 2 3 #11 (or #4) #5  b7

 

As it is shown above the whole tone scale is built with a root (1), a second (2), a major third (3) a raised eleventh (#11 / #4), a raised fifth (#5) and a minor seventh (b7). To sum up, this scale can be applied to any dominant seventh raised fifth (7#5) chords or any dominant seventh chord when you want to add tension.

That means you can play the C whole tone scale over the following chords : C7, D7, E7, F#7, G#7, Bb7, C7#5, D7#5, E7#5, F#7#5, G#7#5, Bb7#5. One same scale over six different chords, this is the principle of this symmetric scales.

The Whole Tone Scale in Twelve Keys

This chart illustrates the tones of the twelve whole tone scales. It will help you build augmented triads and augmented seventh arpeggios as it is explained a little later in this page.

Tone 1 Tone 2 Tone 3 Tone 4 Tone 5 Tone 6
C D E F# G# A#
D E F# G# A# C
E F# G# A# C D
F# G# A# C D E
G# A# C D E F#
A# C D E F# G#
Db Eb F G A B
Eb F G A B Db
G A B Db Eb F
A B Db Eb F G
B Db Eb F G A

One Octave Guitar Shapes

Here are four positions to play the whole tone scale on the guitar within one octave. As it is mentioned in the scale chart above, you can clearly see that there are six notes in each diagram.

The orange note "1" is the tonic, this is the note most important note, it gives the name to the scale. 

Once you have memorized each guitar position you have to play them in twelve keys by moving the root to the desired note keeping the same intervals. 

Whole tone scale guitar shapes

Two Octave Guitar Shapes

These two whole tone scale guitar diagrams run out two octaves in position. The first diagram has its root on the sixth, fourth and first string. The second has roots on the sixth, fifth, third and first string.

 

Whole tone scale guitar charts

Augmented Triad Patterns

After memorizing these patterns you can play by breaking them in augmented triads. Indeed each whole tone scale produces six augmented triads. An augmented triad is made up of three notes, a root (1), a major third (3) and an augmented fifth (#5).

By extracting the tones 1-3 and 5 from the C augmented scale, we arrive at the C augmented triad (C-E-F#). The alternate chord symbol is C+. It works with any whole tone scale.

C augmented triad C E G#
Formula 1 3 #5

 

Examples :

C whole tone scale produces six augmented triads starting by each tone of the scale :

  • C-E-G#
  • D-F#-A#
  • E-G#-C
  • F#-A#-D
  • G#-C-E
  • A#-D-F#

That gives this following pattern : R - 3 - #5....2 - #4 - b7.....3 - #5 - R...and so on. 

In the following pattern the augmented triad is played semitone by semitone in an ascending movement.

Augmented Triads in Cycle of Fourths

This pattern is to play augmented triads in circle of fourths. Circle of fourths progression is that every chord resolves to the chord a fourth above it until it finally concludes in the home key. You got finally all the possible chords in this progression.

C | F | Bb | Eb | Ab | Db | Gb | B | E | A | D | G

Augmented 7 Arpeggio Patterns

Now you master augmented triads you can do the same work with augmented seventh arpeggio patterns because the whole tone scale also produce these arpeggios. They are made by extracting tones 1-3-5 and 6 from the whole tone scale that gives  C, E, G# and A# from the C whole tone scale for example. Related chord notation is C+7 or eventually C7#5. 

As you can see below an augmented seventh arpeggio is an augmented triad with a seventh added. 

C augmented seventh arpeggio C E G# A#
C augmented triad C E G# X
Formula 1 3 #5 b7

 

In this pattern below each augmented seventh arpeggios is played in chromatical progression.

Circle of fourths for this one.

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Last edited: 2021-05-17

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