Analyzing the Octatonic Scale | Music Theory | Composition | Berklee Online
Articles Blog

Analyzing the Octatonic Scale | Music Theory | Composition | Berklee Online

October 9, 2019


[PIANO MUSIC] I have another scale for you, octatonic. And it too is a mode of
limited transposition. You might remember the whole-tone
scale, only two versions. The octatonic scale is somewhat similar,
but it has quite a different sound. Octatonic, eight tone. Just think of octo like
octopus, eight, and tonic, tone. So it has eight notes. Regular scales, even though we
think of them as eight note scales, the top note is a repetition. So it’s 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6 7. [PLAYING SCALE] So this octatonic scale actually
has eight different notes. And it too is a mode of
limited transposition just like the whole-tone scale. Two ways to construct it, which you
really end up with the same thing, just a different starting point. It’s half step, whole step, half step,
whole step, half step, whole step, half step, whole step. [PLAYING SCALE] And you’re back where you started. So to construct it doing
this version, you go– [PLAYING NOTE] –start on– let’s use C. You go up– [PLAYING NOTE] –half step– [PLAYING NOTE] –whole step– [PLAYING NOTE] –half step– [PLAYING NOTE] –whole step– [PLAYING NOTE] –half step– [PLAYING NOTE] –whole step– [PLAYING NOTE] –half step– [PLAYING NOTE] –whole step. And the sound of the scale is– [PLAYING SCALE] Sometimes it’s also called the
diminished scale because if you think about it carefully, you can see– [PLAYING SCALE] –a fully diminished seventh chord
is every third note of the scale. And if you play the notes
that are in-between, if I can squeeze my
fingers in there, it’s another fully diminished seventh chord. [PLAYING CHORDS] So many players, if
they’re improvisers, will use the octatonic scale when they
see a fully diminished seventh chord, especially jazz players. The octatonic scale gained
popularity around the same time as the whole-tone scale. Debussy used it a bit. And another famous French composer,
Olivier Messiaen used it a lot. And it has a unique sound. I remember years ago, I introduced
this to one of my students who just loved it and thought,
well, how can I use it? And he was video game composer. He’s done all the God of War. He’s been the lead composer for that. And he put it to these
big Carmina Burana type of choruses and electric guitars
and gave this totally new sound to this old scale. But with all these half
steps, you can imagine it had this kind of heavy
metal sound at times too. So even for use like that. But composers also use it to
improvise on a seventh chord. If I have a C 7 chord– [PLAYING SCALE] –if I play the
octatonic scale on that– [PLAYING SCALE] –hear the sharp 9. [PLAYING PIANO] With the sharp 11 or flat 5. [PLAYING PIANO] So it’s useful for that. Classical composers used it to get
away from your just normal tonal sound and create some new type of sounds. And you’ll hear some of
those examples this week. And it too is a mode of
limited transposition. The whole-tone scale
only had two versions. Now if we start this same
scale up a half step– [PLAYING NOTE] –where we’re going half step,
whole step, half step, whole step– [PLAYING SCALE] –so half step, whole step, half step,
whole step, half step, whole step, half step. And that we end up back there. Then we move it up to
the next half step to D. [PLAYING SCALE] But if we start it again the
next half step up on E flat, it’s the exact same scale as we started
from with our first one starting on C. So therefore, it too is a
mode of limited transposition. It only has three
possible starting points, or else you end up with the
same collection of notes. But it’s a fun one to work on and use. Use this, especially if you’re
trying to spice up your compositions. You have a dominant seventh
chord or a diminished chord, and you’re thinking of some unusual run. Another way to look at these scales are,
what are the interval possibilities? So you saw that it has
a bunch of minor thirds. [PLAYING SCALE] Has tritones. [PLAYING NOTES] Unlike the whole-tone, it
also has a perfect fifth. [PLAYING CHORD] Perfect fourths. [PLAYING CHORD] So you can have these
dark, ominous sounds. [PLAYING PIANO] So you can use it to create
different kinds of sounds that sound somewhat familiar but also new. And that will give you some new colors
to work with in your compositions. So that is the octatonic scale, another
mode or scale of limited transposition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *