4 Other scales

Many other forms of scales can be found in music, including scales that do not even use the half-step and whole-step patterns, scales unique to an ethnic or regional group, and original or “created” scales that are created by the composer for a specific effect.

Whole-tone scale

Whole-tone scales are six-note scales, each one whole step apart. One line or one space in the staff must be skipped when writing a whole-tone scale (remember there are seven letters to the musical alphabet). Given the first scale degree, there may be alternate solutions to the construction of a whole-tone scale. Do use, though, only sharps or only flats in a single scale (do not mix sharps and flats in a whole-tone scale). Following are versions of a whole tone scale beginning on D:

whole-tone scale beginning on D (all whole steps)



whole-tone scale on D (alternate solution)


incorrect version (mixes sharps with flats)


Claude Debussy often used the whole-tone scale in his music:



Pentatonic scale

Because pentatonic scales have only five notes, there will be two letter names missing the scale. The most common interval pattern for a pentatonic scale is W-W-W+H-W-W+H.  (W = whole step; H = half step)

pentatonic scale



It might be helpful to notice that a pentatonic scale is the same as a major scale without the fourth and seventh scale degrees (each shown by an ‘X’).


As mentioned earlier in this lesson, diatonic scales can be played entirely on the white keys of the piano. The pentatonic scale, on the other hand, can be played entirely on the black keys of the piano.


The pentatonic scale is used often in jazz and other popular styles. Folksong melodies are also frequently based on the pentatonic scale.  

Example of a melody using the pentatonic scale:



The remaining scales described in this lesson are some that have been developed by twentieth-century composers who wanted to derive their music from pitch collections other than the traditional diatonic modes.

Octatonic scale

The octatonic scale is a scale with eight pitches alternating whole and half steps. It can start with either a whole step or half.

octatonic scale



Synthetic scale

A synthetic scale is one in which the composer arranges any number of the twelve pitches in any untraditional way. It can be created using any size steps, including intervals smaller than the half step (common in music of Eastern cultures).


Twelve-tone row

The composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) developed a way of composing with the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale held to a fixed ordering. This means that he composed by writing notes only in the order of the composition’s tone row or one of its prescribed modifications as listed below.


Listen to the original tone row:


Here is the beginning melody of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto.  It presents the original tone row shown in the previous example.



Later composers took this twelve-tone technique and expanded it to include other elements of music such as rhythm and dynamics. Not only would the music follow the tone row order, but it might also follow a specified order of note values and dynamic markings. Even these elements could be used in modified versions such as retrograde.

Other composers might adopt the various permutations (e.g., inversion) to a smaller melodic idea consisting of only a few notes:motive_modifications

Older composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) applied these same modifications to many of their melodies (especially in fugues) long before the twelve-tone method was developed in the twentieth century.

Bach, Fuga VIII

original melody


inverted melody found later in the piece


 Note-able: Other Scales