Whole-tone scale for outside playing

The whole tone scale is a nice tool to get some shifting outside ideas on a minor chord and has been used for this by quite a few people since the 60’s. In this lesson I am going to go over how you connect a whole tone scale to a tonic minor chord and demonstrate how you can use it to get some great spacey outside sounds.

When you are staying on Tonic minor chords for a longer period in a song it can be nice to  have some ways of create some tension and a bit of movement. The whole tone scale can be a good choice for this. Among other things because you can create a shifting sound that goes in and out of the tonality.

The examples in this lesson are thought from a melodic minor or tonic minor chord, but you can of course also use it on other types of minor chords if you can make it fit.

Tonic minor: Melodic minor

All the examples I am going to go over are in the key of G minor and are using the melodic minor scale in the 8th position as shown in example 1


The idea is to look at the top part of the chord in bar 2 of example 1. This is a GmMaj7 chord and the top triad is a Bb augmented triad. If we let that augmented triad “lead its own life” we could see it as half of a Bb wholetone scale as shown in example 2:


Some lines shifting back an forth

The form of all the examples are all 1 bar GmMaj7 one bar wholetone and then resolving back to the GmMaj7. The Whole tone sound that I am going over here is shifting back and forth between in and outside which is a nice quite subtle way to play outside. Most other ways are more clashing with the original harmony as in my lesson on Side Slipping

When you work on using outside stuff you are better of paying attention to that you get in to the outside sound and more important out of it in a sensible melodic way. It probably won’t work too well if you have completely separate ideas from in to outside.

Another thing is that you should be aware that simple melodic ideas often work better for outside than complex ones.  This is because if you for example use a lot of chromatic passing notes in your outside line then those chromatic passing notes are in fact probably the inside notes of the original chord sound. For that reason it’s good to keep the outside lines a bit basic.

The first example is actually a quote from Wes. He uses this licks in a few of the Four on Six solos. I start out with a GmMaj7 chord and then a GmMaj arpeggio where the top triad moves up from Bb to C to D where it is of course back home and resolves to the  9th of GmMaj7


In the second example the first part of the line is based around a stack of 4ths spelling out a Gm6/9 chord. This is followed by a scale run. Then it transitions into a whole tone idea. Again using the different triads to sort of shift in and out of the chord sound. In this example I am mixing up how I connect the lines. so that it is less like a triad voiceleading through the scale. When I hit the high D  I resolve to a Gm6/9 (using the first stack of 4ths under it as a voicing)


The last example starts with a Gm(add9) arpeggio idea that then continues to some parallel major 3rds. Moving around these symmetrical chord constructions is very easy in the whole tone scale and you could do it with complete augmented triads as well. I really like the 3rd intervals. That is what I use in the intro video of the lesson as well.


I hope you can use the ideas I went over hear to add some new lines and ideas to your tonic minor vocabulary. There is a lot of experimentation possible with this idea.

If you want some more insight into how I improvise then you can check out this lesson on a solo on how high the moon that covers some other ideas to use over the harmony and some poly rhythmic phrasing ideas as well!

How High The Moon – Solo Etude

If you want to study the examples I went over in the lesson you can of course also download them as a pdf here below:


If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you want to hear.

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