Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whole Tone scales & Dom-Dim Sevenths

I have been playing flute for around 7 years and have my ABRSM exam,grade 8 in 4 weeks and I'm getting stressed over all the whole tone scales, dominant 7ths and diminished 7ths etc. Any tips?

Dear student flutist,
I know what that used to feel like.
Is this depiction about right? (see picture below)

I know that feeling well: Dum dum Dom Dim!!!!
click on picture to enlarge.

But if you can stack major second intervals (C goes to D, D goes to E, E goes to F#) and if you can imagine being able to stack minor thirds (C goes to Eb, G goes to Bb etc.), just as in the major and minor arpeggios you already know, then no worries mate! Your theory and flute playing are about to have a wholesome collision!

Here are my speed-learning tips and tricks:

Whole Tone Scales.You may already know this, but for whole tone, there are only TWO!

C - D - E - F# - G# - A# - C


C# - D# - F - G - A - B - C#

All you have to do is memorize the two scales above, and then start them on any note in the scale.
Even easier, if you're learning whole tone scales for the first time, you can easily memorize them by using clumps of white notes in the C-major scale as your starting point.

Step 1: First find the natural set of whole tones that already exist in a C major scale.

Let's start with CDE.
To continue the CDE scale in whole tones, I'd need to add F#, G#, A# to arrive back at C.

So now I'd memorize those two sets of notes, the white ones CDE, and the sharp ones, F#,G#, A#, put them together and then play one octave.

Step 2: Next, create whole tones from the second set of natural whole tones that are found in the C major scale. These are the other four white keys. They are: FGAB.

To continue from B, and to avoid the semi-tone of B-C, you would go to: C#, D#.
There are only two sharps this time, and then we're back at F and can play FGAB again! So that one is even easier to remember.

Step 3: Review at the keyboard - There are only two places in a C scale where two white keys are side-by-side, as we all know. E to F, and B to C are both semi-tone intervals, so when you create a whole tone always move from B to C# and from E to F# (!) to get whole tones.

Whole Tone Scales

See sample below and play through it.

click on picture to enlarge.
Notice the white-key plateaus after each small raft of black keys.

Step 4: To review all versions of the two whole tone scales, play through starting on each note in turn, feeling of the fingerings, proceding slowly, and listening to the tone.

Eventually, once memorized (takes a day or so for these two whole tone scales), you then play the scales on any starting on any pitch. Fun to use during tone warmup with different exotic rhythms. Very Debussy !

If you can add ten more minutes to one of your many daily pracitice sessions, return to the whole tones, gradually increasing the two scales in tempo, changing the start note, going up two octaves and back down, and eventually articulating as per your exam requirements for whole tone scales.

For Dominant and Diminished Seventh chords.

The diminished and dominant sevenths are fun to to learn and memorize if you start with the major chords you already know. Since you have already memorized your majors from previous exams, you can simply use those scales now to count up to find the dominant note of any scale. Build your dominant 7th chords on that dominant (5th) note of any scale; use a 1-3-5 triad just like any other major chord, and then with a flourish of bravery, add the 7th that was the subdominant (4th) note when you first counted.

Example: Play C-major scale and arpeggio like a brilliant flutist, then stop and soulfully longtone up the first five notes of the scale. Count up five notes by saying mentally : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Take note of the 4th* and 5th notes above the tonic. They are F and G.

Hold the dominant, G and give it great tone. Remember the F for the next step.*

This fifth note G will the root of the Dom7th chord of the major key you're in.
Build a G major triad (which would be spelled GBD, as you already know from your major arpeggios), and then add the seventh above that G. Add the F natural: GBDF. And the simplicity of it is that *the very seventh you need is actually the fourth note of your C-scale, the F, that you already counted in the step above.

Note as you count up 1-2-3-4-5 that the subdominant or 4th note will always be the top note or "flatted-seventh" that you need in a dominant seventh chord.

By counting this way you become aware of the home key of a dominant seventh.

You would play:

G B D F (the dom7)
and then return to
C E G C.
Very satisfying math, and you only have to count to five!

Now to the famous Diminished Sevenths.

Thankfully, once again, there are far fewer than you think of these types of four note dim7 chords. For example: If I stack minor third intervals from all possible notes, there are only three stacks possible:




If I were to continue to build a stack of minor-thirds on the note D right now, it would be the same as the first one above: D F Ab B.

So you actually only need to learn the three sets of four notes above, and then can simply start on any note in them and continue upward, and you have all possible diminished sevenths.

See sample method below of playing I, V7, dim7, I chords as arpeggios.
I wrote them out fancifully, but they're just the dom and dims for C-major and D-major. You can use your own rhythms and patterns to explore all major keys with an extra 10-20 minute session for 1-2 new keys per day.

click on jpg to enlarge above.

C Major and D Major are shown. Count up to the 5th note and the 4th note by playing, later just "thinking" the counting. Move on to all other keys using the majors you already know.

Also, if you need a second way to find the top note of a diminished seven chord, perhaps your brain starts to drift, and you need another brain-anchoring device, the top note of a dim7 is always a half-step above the root of the V chord in that key. (Ex: In C major, Ab is a half step above G when you counted up 1-2-3-4-5 to G). So adding reference points really helps, and it's another "jazzy sounding" way to find the new note in the chord series.

That's why I like this pattern, I, V7, VIIo7, I, because it tells me what the notes are going to be in advance and I can build the chords from well-known anchor points. Plus it makes me feel like a clever explorer rather than hopelessly reading through non-memorizable pages of chords from a method book.

After two or three weeks of playing Dom and Dim 7ths in all keys using the above arpeggio pattern, fairly swiftly you'll find that your mathematical brain will figure out the easiest way to remember these very few numbers. You'll be amazed! And as an added bonus it sounds so musical when it resolves to the home key and you review your majors at the same time.

I'm not sure of the ABRSM requirements for tempo and articulations, you'll have to send a link to the format the site says is on "Page 85", if you want more help. I can't see the page that gives the necessary rhythm or other patterns.

Abrsm woodwind requirements

Abrsm grade 8 flute scale and solo requirements.

In general when preparing for an exam:

Work on only two to four new scales or chords a day, and learn them while your mind is fresh. Mornings sessions are freshest. Review later in the day once or twice more. Take deep breaths, pause and think exploratively. Don't panic, don't rush, and learn new patterns in a musical way, feeling the sense of them, before adding any more. Keep a notebook of which ones you've learned, and review often. Proceed slowly on new chords, and focus on the quality of the sound. The math will start to sink in after about a week.

Later when you speed up and add articulations, keep that fabulous tone that you've had since the start of this practice, and let fingers be light. Play with panache and grace. Listen back to recordings of yourself, and listen for musicality, evenness of fingers, and precision in articulation.

Remember that you'll likely only be asked a few of these chords, and if you miss one, you can still pass the exam.

Everyone feels a bit freaked out at this point just a few weeks before their exams, but it all works out in the end. The fear and trepidation is your cue to take some deep slow breaths, slow your brain down to a point of learning and focus, and breath easily through the whole experience.
Without a deadline such as an exam, that we set for ourselves, funnily enough (!) :>) we never quite know what heights we can reach.
Once you know all these chords and scales, you'll be able to freely improvise for the rest of your life, and even compose flute music!
With that in mind, you'll find it's all pretty fun to figure out the patterns.
Best of luck, and hope this helps. Jen

Comments (5)
Anonymous Jenni said...

Thank you SO much! Just stumbled on this while trying to figure out how on earth to work out dominant 7ths. I did grade 7 so I should know - but that was a good 15 years ago and I've barely played at all since. Fortunately my grade 8 is a good 6 months away, so all is not lost...

Off to amble through the rest of your archives


Thursday, September 27, 2012 4:52:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Jenni,
So glad to help!
Best, Jen

Thursday, September 27, 2012 9:20:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenni do you know if the whole tone on C is 3 octaves ??

I have the abrsm scale book and c major/minors/dominants etc are written in 3 octages but nowhere does it say that the whole tone is also 3 octaves

Monday, June 03, 2013 5:56:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anonymous,
Can you ask an ABRSM flute teacher?
Or can you email the ABRSM?
They would know.
I doubt that their exam includes three octaves on whole tone, because it would only work on WT beginning on C, and that would mean the top two notes would be A#3, C4. Unlikely as too demanding.

Monday, June 03, 2013 9:03:00 AM

Anonymous Hattie Jolly said...

Hi Anon and Jen,

Don't worry, the whole tone scales for ABRSM are only one octave!

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 12:17:00 AM


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