The Whole Tone Scale – Why it’s cool! (with free jam track)

whole tone scale

I refer to this video lesson on the Whole Tone Scale regularly in my lessons

As one YouTube commenter stated:

“I always found little use in this scale, you have just changed my mind. Thanks as always! You’re amazing.”

The whole tone scale is a very educational scale because it is the easiest of all the symmetric scales. It is built from only whole steps. It hence creates very pretty shapes on the fretboard and teaches us a whole (ha!) lot about:

  • the symmetry of the bass fretboard
  • how notes work
  • shapes within shapes

There are also only two of them, so if you learn one scale you are covering six (!) chords and sounds.

Download this PDF to see the pretty shapes this scale creates.

The best way to learn this scale is to improvise over a 7 sharp 5 chord and use it. Here is a whole tone track for you to download (composed by Wolf Wein!)

Want to learn more about the whole tone scale?

A brand new episode of Talking Technique is coming out on next Monday, June 3rd! Enjoy!

I teach a well thought out Technique program in this course

I use:

Transcribe! Tutorial – My Favorite transcribing Software Explained (Plus: Best key commands!)

Transcribe! Tutorial
(Scroll down to watch video. Header is image only)

Transcribe! is one Nifty Program

Transcribe! for Windows     Transcribe! for Mac   Transcribe for Linux

Here are 9 reasons why you really should look into it:

  • It is far superior to iTunes and other audio players (or worse, YouTube!) in just finding your spot. Ever try to transcribe a tune using YouTube? Forget about getting to your spot instantly (wheel galore! But also inaccurate). With Transcribe! you can quickly navigate to exactly where you need to be. And I mean exactly– down to the very note! Or explore a fraction of the beat. Zoom into that waveform until it fills your screen!
  • Awesome key commands to make navigating the song a breeze!
  • Speed up or slow way down without changing the key!
  • Change the key of any song (Working with singers, anyone?)
  • Loop sections and shed!
  • Boost frequencies to hear certain instruments better!
  • Set section markers, measure markers or even beat markers!
  • Export transposed or slowed down files for students, band mates…!
  • Even slow down videos and zoom in down to the exact note!

Yes, there are other programs that can fulfill basic slow down/speed up functions – even free ones like Audacity. There is the “Amazing Slow-downer” and iPhone app I like, AnyTune Pro.

But Transcribe!‘s cool features and intuitive layout, great algorithms (minimizing mickey-mousing when changing tempo or keys) and killer exporting options make it by far my favorite of the lot.

Whether you are new to taking tunes off a recording or are shedding bebop solos trying to check out the nooks and crannies of your heroes’ work, Transcribe! will be your best friend.

But use wisely- as a tool, not a crutch.

Check out my tutorial, complete with a list of my favorite, easy to remember key commands.

Full disclosure: I’m an affiliate, y’all!  I only recommend products I believe in and actually use on a daily basis myself. Boom! Please use the following links to purchase.

Transcribe! for Windows

Transcribe! for Mac

Transcribe for Linux

Download Transcribe! Key commands List as a PDF

PS to add: Proud to say Seventhstring Software’s Andy Robinson listed this tutorial on his website with a nice endorsement after watching it. Oh yes, and we are right under Jennifer Batten’s tutorial 🙂

Here is an excellent 30 minute tour of Transcribe! – thank you Ariane Cap.

Transcribe! Key commands

Why I dislike the WWH WWWH Method for Creating a Major Scale

You have all heard the advice…

Create a major scale with the formula WWHWWWH –

which of course stands for

  • whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step

Don’t. Just don’t. Here’s why:

  • It’s a mouthful!
  • It’s way too easy to miscount!
  • Each of these constitutes a “step”, meaning going from one note to another. It is too easy to lose your place.
  • This method makes it much harder to know the sound of this scale!
  • In order to create a scale this way you always have to start from the very beginning (and that’s not how music works – it stops and starts in all sorts of places!)
  • This will make it harder to create modes, too. Thinking of the Dorian mode for example, as whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half-whole is just totally impractical (compared to, for example: think of dorian as a minor scale with a raised sixth, a happy minor, think Irish music for the sound of it! Drunken Sailor…)

But for argument’s sake, let’s take a closer look at WWHWWWH

Okay, I’ll humor the WWHWWWH-ers and suggest we play this on the bass on one string. For that it is mildly useful because on one string you can readily see W and H.

Watch me do it here, in one of 89 videos that come with my book, Music Theory for the Bass Player:

Here is an excerpt from the book that goes with this video:

You can see the pattern:

  • 2 frets = whole step
  • 1 fret = half step.

This kind of works when playing up/down on one string but gets way more complicated when playing across strings (which is the real world scenario).

Instead, create a major scale like this:

Intervals from the root!

This is a much better formula. Why?

Scale degrees tell you something about the sound of the individual notes – info you can use for soloing, building grooves etc.

And there is a beautiful logic to it! In the major scale all ascending intervals, aside from the perfect ones, are major: major 2, major 3 major 6, major 7. The fourth and fifth and octave are perfect intervals.

When descending, the rules for interval inversions apply: a major interval becomes minor and perfect intervals stay perfect. Therefore, when descending the scale, you have a minor 2, minor 3, minor 6 and minor 7, and the fourth, fifth, octave stay perfect as seen from the root on top.

create a major scale WWHWWWH

To get the full benefit of this method, you need to know:

  • the intervals and best fingering practices for them. (Do check out my book 🙂 )
  • what individual intervals sound like in relationship to the root. (Super useful!)

Intervals are the basic building blocks of music. Learn them like your ABCs! Know their shapes on the fretboard with good fingering and you improve your bass playing instantly!

Ari’s Rules for Major Scales

I love shortcuts…

You likely knew #1 and #2, but take to heart #3 and you will cut down your note naming errors by almost 100%. (The only thing you need to know now is what to call the root of the scale, for instance, A# or Bb.)

Down and dirty trick when dealing with major scales: If a note requires an accidental as a root, name the root by its flat name, and you will always be right – That won’t cover all available options [leaves out F# and C# which also exist, in addition to Gb and Db], but you will not end up with crazy double accidentals and nobody will look at you funny because you built an impossible scale! So, any black key on the piano = flat!

Bonus tip: For the minor scales it’s the sharp name that will always be the correct option! (You may prefer to think Bb minor with 5 flats rather than A# minor with 7 sharps, but either are correct.)

We have a new Course on Ear Training coming! Info Here: Ear Confidence: Six Paths to Fearless Ears

All images courtesy CapCat Music Media INC

Music theory for the bass player by ariane cap

Now also available spiral bound on spiral boun music theory for the bass player spiralbound

A Cool Scale to use over a Dominant: The Lydian Dominant Sound!

Lydian Dominant

Dominant 7#11 – The Lydian Dominant Sound

Dominant seventh chords are all about tension!

Why? Quick reminder, there is a tritone between the third and seventh of a dominant seventh chord that begs to resolve since hundreds of years. Western harmony (the “functional harmony” part of it!), you could say, is built on that resolution of the tritone and lots of fun can be had here, from tritone substitutions to the blues where it never really resolves, to extensions (such as 9ths, 13ths) and alterations (such as b9ths, #9ths, b13ths).

Dominant seventh chords – because, again, inherently tense – provide the most options for any chord to solo over.

Here are just a few of the many options of scales you could use over a dominant:

(I listed the extensions and alterations you get)

  • major pentatonic – 9 natural 13
  • minor pentatonic – #9
  • major blues scale – 9 #9 natural 13
  • minor blues scale (AKA “the blues scale”) – #9 #11
  • mixolydian – 9 natural 13
  • phrygian – b9 #9 b13
  • mixolydian flat 6 (a mode of melodic minor, the fifth mode) – 9 b13
  • the altered scale (another mode of the melodic minor scale, seventh mode) – b9 #9 #11 b13
  • diminished dominant – b9 #9 #11 natural 13
  • gypsy scale (5th mode of harmonic minor) – b9 b13
  • the fifth mode of the byzantine scale (double harmonic major) – b9 #9 b5 natural 13


Oftentimes the tension of the tritone between the third and seventh is not enough and we crave more to resolve this chord, hence the above options!

One cool option is not listed above and it is – compared to some of the others – quite accessible. It is called the

Lydian Dominant Scale

Two things of note here:

So let’s build this scale in C:

lydian dominant

The cool and useful concept here is that you can view any chord as a scale. You can also turn any scale into a chord by not playing it in order but rather by stacking thirds on top of each other.

Forever and a day, soloists have been bothered by the 11th or perfect fourth in any kind of chord that is major. Why? Because if you voice the major third low in the chord and use the fourth up high then you get a clashy sound, specifically the interval of a flat 9. The flat 9 is cool from the root of a dominant seventh chord, but within the chord, it typically sounds offensive to our ears: That is true for a major triad or major seventh chord (in C: E to F up the octave is a flat nine, whether you play a Cmajor7 or a C7):

In this major scale stacked as thirds (chord: Cmaj7) you have a b9 between the e and the f, highlighted below with the two stars.

Here you have regular mixolydian on the left and lydian dominant (just raise the fourth) on the right. Note the b9 problem on the left but a lusciously sweet sounding natural nine in the case of lydian dominant:

Where do you hear the Lydian Dominant Scale or Chord?

Duke’s “Take the A-Train” has a famous #11 in bar three. Some charts get this wrong. Here is the Chuck Sher version, which gets it right (from “The New Real Book” by Chuck Sher):



The good old “The Real Book” gets it wrong. Well, halfway wrong. They correctly list g# in the melody but call the chord b5. Ouch! Should be #11.


Take the A Train


The melody goes to the #4 in the D9#11 chord – it creates the delicious tension between the F# in the bottom of the chord and the G# – ie #11 – on top!

No nasty b9 clash!

Things to remember about the flat9 issue within a chord:

  • Minor chords never have this issue between the third and the fourth (11th) because they have a flat third so they naturally create a major ninth interval with the eleventh.
  • There are several possibilities for b9 intervals to occur within a chord scale, for example between a 5th and a b13. The third has a special place in a chord, however, so what happens between the major 3rd and 11th in a chord is just, well, not pretty. Context and function of the major third make that so.
  • You can change the color of any dominant 7th or major seventh chord by raising the 11 when soloing. In other words
    • turning major into lydian or
    • mixolydian into lydian dominant

is frequently done (whether that is “officially” announced in the chord changes or not). Be aware though that this slightly changes or challenges the stability of the key.

Wait! You just mixed sharps and flats within one scale!!

While in the major/minor system that would incur at least a twenty dollar fine. In this case, it is okay to do. Lydian dominant is actually the fourth mode of melodic minor. Melodic minor is created by taking the regular (aeolian) minor scale (in the example below G minor) and raising the 6th and 7th scale degree (to solve the problem of the minor dominant in minor keys). You get a natural thirteen and a major seventh (which is the leading tone to the root, a half step to the octave, which makes the classical theorists very happy). Mixing accidentals is also often the only sensible option to create a readable notation.

If you take the fourth mode of said G melodic minor scale, you get lydian dominant, here C lydian dominant!

lydian dominant


Take Away

  • Next time you encounter a dominant seven chord, experiment with lydian dominant. It might not quite roll off your fingers like mixolydian does, but that #11 sounds hip!
  • Modes of melodic minor —> cool scales
  • That flat 9 between third and 11 in a major chord or dominant 7 chord—> mostly avoid!