Chromatic, Whole Tone, And Pentatonic Scales On The Piano

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Chromatic, Whole Tone, And Pentatonic Scales On The Piano
Music  scales

This is a podcast I recorded several years ago, but scales are still scales, so hope you get a lot out of it.

Here is a transcription of the podcast if you would like to follow along:

Hello again. This is Duane with “More Good Stuff You Really Ought to Know.” Today, I’d like to take a look at the three kinds of scales. Undoubtedly, you know all about major scales (Duane playing piano) and minor scales (Duane playing piano).

Today, I’d like to look at chromatic, whole tone, and pentatonic scales. First of all, what’s a major scale? It’s a succession of notes that goes from the root (Duane playing piano) to the octave. It’s made up of whole steps and half steps. Some are whole steps (Duane playing piano), some are half steps (Duane playing piano).

In a major scale, there is whole step (Duane playing piano), whole step (Duane playing piano), half step (Duane playing piano), then whole step (Duane playing piano), whole step (Duane playing piano), whole step (Duane playing piano), half step (Duane playing piano). If we broke that down further, we’d say it had a lower (Duane playing piano) tetrachord and an upper tetrachord (Duane playing piano).

A major scale (Duane playing piano) is a ladder of notes that runs from the root to the octave, it’s like, it’s a ladder from the word “La scala”, the ladder. That ladder runs (Duane playing piano) the gamut of eight notes and returns to the root.

A minor scale, there’s three kinds of minor scales. There’s a natural minor, which uses the same notes as the major scale, just doesn’t start on the same note. In other words, if I play the C scale from (Duane playing piano) A to A, that would be the A natural minor scale. It’s related to C. Why is it related? Because we just used the same notes. Exactly the same notes. Just starting in in a different place.

There’s a (Duane playing piano) harmonic minor, which raises the seventh degree at the scale. In other words, we’ve been in a sharp, an accidental sharp of the seventh degree of the scale, and there’s the melodic minor (Duane playing piano), which raises the sixth and seventh on the way up, ascending, but (Duane playing piano) restores them to their natural state, descending. In other words, it’s like the natural minor descending. Just a quick review of major and minor scales.

A chromatic scale is all half steps. There’s no whole steps in it at all. Therefore, you can start at any point (Duane playing piano). In the example, it starts on E (Duane playing piano) and goes to F and then F sharp G (Duane playing piano), G sharp (Duane playing piano). It’s the simplest of all scales. You don’t have to wonder about what comes next.

Fingering-wise, sometimes it could be a problem. Here’s what you do. You use your thumb all the time on white keys, and your third finger, all the time on black keys, except when you have two white keys in a row. You can play any chromatic scale that way.

For example, if we start on–, in our example, it starts on E (Duane playing piano), our second note is F, so we have two white keys in a row, so we have to use thumb (Duane playing piano) second. Now we can use our third finger (Duane playing piano) on the black key. Now bring our thumb under to G (Duane playing piano), third finger on G sharp, thumb on A, third (Duane playing piano) finger on B flat. This is in the key of F.

Then thumb under to B (Duane playing piano), and then we have two white keys in a row, so use (Duane playing piano) your second finger. Third finger thumb (Duane playing piano), third finger thumb (Duane playing piano), second finger, third (Duane playing piano).

You can play any kind of chromatic scales starting any note using that formula. What’s the formula? Just use your thumb on white keys and your third finger on black keys, except when you have two white keys in a row, and of course you do (Duane playing piano) in two instances between B and C, and E and F.

Whole tone scale is what it says it is. It’s just all whole steps (Duane playing piano). In other words, if you start on C (Duane playing piano), go up to D, then up to E (Duane playing piano), because that’s a whole step. What’s a whole step above E? It’s not F. You got to go up to (Duane playing piano) F sharp, whole step is G sharp (Duane playing piano), whole step is A sharp (Duane playing piano), and a whole step above that is B sharp (Duane playing piano) or C.

As we go from C to C (Duane playing piano), we have that kind of sound. It sounds spacey. Like you’re lost in space.

Let’s come up a half step, by the way. Let’s start on C sharp (Duane playing piano) and form a whole tone scale (Duane playing piano). Whole tone above C sharp is D sharp (Duane playing piano). Whole tone above that is F (Duane playing piano) and G (Duane playing piano), A (Duane playing piano), B (Duane playing piano), C sharp (Duane playing piano).

What do we do? We use the two black keys (Duane playing piano) together, then we use four white keys and then we’re back to the black keys. In the first scale (Duane playing piano), notice we use three white keys, and then we use the set of three black keys.

In one chromatic scale, we use the three black keys (Duane playing piano), and the other whole tone scale, we use (Duane playing piano) the two black keys that are together, C sharp and D sharp.

My point is that there’s only two whole tone scales, because if you start on D (Duane playing piano), it’s the same scale as (Duane playing piano) the C whole tone scale. You’re just starting a note higher. If you start off on E flat (Duane playing piano), it’s the same as the C sharp (Duane playing piano) whole tone scale. You can see there’s only two possibly whole tone scales.

Can you make chords out of those (Duane playing piano)? Yes, just take every other note and you have that kind of feeling (Duane playing piano). You make some real spooky music that way.

The last scale I’d like to look at is called the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic, penta of course, means five. This is kind of an Oriental scale. This is used in a lot of the (Duane playing piano) Eastern cultures, and has been for years. It’s like the first (Duane playing piano) three notes that are major scale, and then you skip the fourth and you play the fifth (Duane playing piano) and the sixth (Duane playing piano).

Think of it that way. One (Duane playing piano), two (Duane playing piano), three (Duane playing piano), five (Duane playing piano), six (Duane playing piano), and of course the octave (Duane playing piano). There’s no fourth and there’s no seventh (Duane playing piano), so you have that kind of sound.

Go up a half step (Duane playing piano), and you could play that on all the black keys. You don’t have any white keys at all, it’s just all the black keys. If you want to (Duane playing piano) improvise on just the black keys, play them at random. What you’re doing is you’re improvising on the pentatonic scale, and if you get in a little bit of an Oriental sound, that’s why. If that reminds of a Japanese tea garden or something, that’s why
That’s “More Good Stuff You Really Ought to Know.” We’ll see you next month with a little more.


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