Wholetone Scale

Music Theory Resources


Just as the chromatic scale is built using only half steps, the wholetone scale uses only whole steps. Because the distance between each successive pair of notes is the same, there are no aural cues that let the listener know which note is the tonic. This makes the wholetone scale tonally ambiguous. The same is true of the chromatic scale.

There are only two possible collections of notes that can be used to create whole tone scales. Any further transpositions will only duplicate one of these collections. For our purposes, we will call these the C and C-sharp wholetone scales.

The tonal ambiguity of the wholetone scale makes it appealing to composers who wish to avoid traditional tonality or who want to communicate the idea of disorientation or vagueness.

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