Physics of Music - Notes

Hexatonic Scales

The only common Hexatonic (6-note) scales we find in modern western music are the blues scale and the "whole tone scale." Both of these scales are rather new to western music, starting in the late 19th and 20th century. Of course any 7-note scale with one note missing can be regarded as a 6 note scale though in most cases the sound is not distinctly different from the original 7-note scale.

The half-step intervals for these two scales are:

The whole-tone scale is interesting in that it is a division of the octave into equal intervals. Such a division seems an obvious thing to try though certain important harmonies are entirely absent -- including the fourth and the fifth. One could argue that whole-tone music gets its distinctive sound via the conspicuous absence of these intervals. The whole tone scale also has the property that no matter which note you start on, it is still a whole tone scale. This lack of a "root" for the scale leads to its distinctive "dreamy" or "ethereal" sound.

To play a whole tone scale on a keyboard, play the notes with the red dot (3 black, then 3 white, etc):


Of course you can translate all the notes up or down by any number of half steps. For example, if you move up (or down) 1/2 step, you play two black keys and then four white.


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