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Author Topic: A Short Text on the Octatonic Major-Minor Scale for Trackers  (Read 3251 times)

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A Short Text on the Octatonic Major-Minor Scale for Trackers
by ModTomIT

The major-minor scale is an interesting one. While in Western music most of the time there are only five notes or (more commonly) seven notes in an octave, the major-minor crams eight notes into the scale. This has some advantages and disadvantages. The first is, well, more notes to play and thus more harmonic relationships to exploit. The disadvantage is that playing the scale can sound meandering (and thus, bad) more than with the other scales.

The Major-Minor scale is: Half-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step. If its in the “key” of C, then it goes (with all sharps and no flats for trackers ;))

C, C#, D#, E, F#, G, A, A#

One thing you’ll notice really soon is the geometric repetition of form in the scale as it repeats a basic pattern four times. If you play this on a guitar or mandolin, for instance, you’ll notice the scale has the same finger pattern after every 3 notes. This makes it really easy to learn on stringed instruments, and if you have a guitar or a cello or something I really suggest you learn the basic pattern on the fingerboard.

So, note that this scale is the same every four notes. We’ll call an instance of this sameness a “unit” of the scale, for ease of learning. Each “unit” is the same, only at a different place in the scale. This means that C Major-minor, D# Major-minor, F# Major-minor, and A-Major-minor are the EXACT same scale.

So stop. Look what you have on any given note. A minor third. Every single note on this scale has a minor third ahead of it, and thus a minor third behind it. Since 3-semitones times 2 equals 6 semitones, or a tritone (diminished fifth), every note also has a tritone behind it, and ahead of it. This is one property you can exploit when constructing melodies on the scale, but you are limited in what chords can be used in a consonant manner (because, you know, the diminished fifth is a very dissonant interval).

Let’s look at the four notes at the beginning of each “unit” of the scale. What do we have on each? A fifth, a minor-third, and a major third. This property is where you can get some interesting chord action going. So in C-Major-minor, on C, D#, F#, and A, you have a major triad AND a minor triad. This allows you to create very exotic and complex moods and longer chord progressions with your music! You can change a chord from minor to major in the middle of a bar, play a chord progression in all minor chords, and then the same chord progression but with all major chords. The third of the chord is a way of playing chord melodies that are rich and exotic.

I should add that you may definitely want to ignore the traditional prohibition against parallel fifths (ie, power chord progressions) as having fifths playing on the four roots of the “units” with one instrument allows another instrument to fill in with melodies containing both major and minor thirds and other intervals.

Due to the repeating nature of the scale, complex melodies can be repeated transposed up or down 3, 6, or 9 semitones without modification except for changing their relative position. This can be a cheap composing trick though, so use it tastefully.


Next to the root of each “unit” is a note which has a fourth connected to it. This can be used in creating chord inversions. Say you’re playing in C-Major-minor, you go to C#, and then F# is played with C# to create a fourth dyad. Keep in mind that F# is the root of a “unit”! This allows you to play third inversions of chords that would start at F#, thus allowing triads to be played at any part of the scale, albeit, in a strange manner.

Minor seventh chords are available at the root of each “unit”.

All in all, the octatonic scale is an underused, cool scale that can lend emotional ambiguity and obscurity to a piece; using it creates a playful interplay of light and darkness, which can be used to great effect. I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this!

[Comments, corrections, and suggestions for additions welcome.]


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Re: A Short Text on the Octatonic Major-Minor Scale for Trackers
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2017, 17:26:36 »

We should also do the blues scales, and the microtonic neutral scale(with fine portamentos emulating microtones).
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