Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is a Whole Tone Scale?

Learn more about the whole note scale, to be not confused with the pentatonic scale

In this video, Robert tackles the Whole-Tone scale, to be not confused with the "Pentatonic Scale"

Released on February 26, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I am your host, Robert Estrin. Last time we talked about the chromatic scale which simply contains all the keys in order without skipping or repeating any, all the half steps. Well, today's subject is what is a whole tone scale. You've heard it particularly in impressionist music. Has an ear equality.

You expect a genie to pop out of a hat when you hear that, don't you? It's an interesting sound. Well, what is it? It's actually quite simple. Last time, we talked about how the chromatic scale was all half steps. That is two keys together with no keys between. The whole tone scale are all whole steps so it skips every half step or two keys together with one key between so you build whole tones.

So you notice how they're all whole steps. Now, there's an interesting application about this. Whereas the chromatic scale, you'll discover that there really is only one chromatic scale because you can just start on any note and it's the same series of half steps. So how many different whole tone scales are there? Great question. There are actually two because you notice, if I play all the notes we come to C and then it just repeats but if you start a half step higher, you'll get all the other notes that you missed out on the first time.

So there are only two whole tone scales and you can start at any particular note and that leads us... Next time, we're going to talk a little bit about diminished 7th chords. Why? Because they're actually the next logical step in this discussion for you.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on November 30, 2016 @1:38 pm PST
I love how easily you explain music theory
Robert Estrin - host, on November 30, 2016 @6:27 pm PST
I owe this gift to my father, Morton Estrin who has an uncanny ability of breaking things down to their essential elements.
marianmacleod on March 18, 2014 @11:38 am PST
Perhaps it was a misprint in the title. See above: "What is a Whole Tone Scale? Learn more about the whole note scale, also known as the pentatonic scale." So I wrote to receive clarification on that title.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on March 18, 2014 @11:44 am PST
Thank you Marian for your inquiry. Yes, that's actually a mistake and we have just corrected it. It had to be "to be NOT confused with the pentatonic scale!". Thank you for pointing that out!
joyce marshall on March 15, 2014 @8:47 am PST
How is the wjhole tone scale the same as the pentatonic. The whole tone scale has 6 notes but the pentatonic has 5 notes.
Robert - host, on March 17, 2014 @4:40 pm PST
The whole tone scale is not the same as the pentatonic scale. The whole tone scale is comprised of all whole steps. The pentatonic scale has the intervals formed from the 5 black notes on the keyboard. The whole tone scale only has 2 variants a half-step apart. If you go up another half-step. you are back to the first scale starting on the second note of that scale!
The pentatonic scale can be transposed to any of the 12 keys. It is built on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale.

Most scales count the bottom and top notes which are the same. So a major or minor scale is said to have 8 notes in which the bottom and top notes are the same. However, the pentatonic scale derives its name from the 5 different tones of the scale.
marianmacleod on February 26, 2014 @5:48 am PST
Why do you say "also known as the pentatonic scale"? A pentatonic scale has five tones, thus "Penta." Not counting the octave note, a whole tone scale has six. So I guess you could think of it as a hexatonic scale, or perhaps septatonic if you count the octave. Am I right?
Robert - host, on March 17, 2014 @4:46 pm PST
The pentatonic scale is unique since it is built on only 5 notes of the major scale. Other scales are expressed in other ways since the number of notes is not the defining aspect for all scales. Since whole tone scales have all the same intervals (whole steps) this is its most distinctive feature - not how many notes it has.
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