This column shows an easy and efficient way to play the whole tone scale.  The whole tone scale is made up of intervals of only whole steps (2 frets) and contains 6 notes. This scale was used a lot by Impressionist composers in the early 20th century like Claude Debussy as well as gypsy guitar god Django Reinhardt.  There is no real tonality to the scale because there is no natural 5th, so it has a very ethereal sound. This scale works well over the augmented triad [1, 3, #5 : C, E, G#], the augmented 7th chord [1, 3, #5, b7 : C, E, G#, Bb] and the #11 chord [1, (3), (5), b7, 9, #11 : C, Bb, D, F#]  (end a song with this chord for a very cool sound).

There are only 2 whole tone scales: C, D, E, F#, G#, A# and B, C#, D#, F, G, A.

The cool thing about this is that you can travel up 3 octaves and 12 frets very quickly if you use a 3 note per string pattern:

whole tone scale

I use the 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers to play the scale in this 3 note per string fingering:

whole tone fingering
An interesting way to play the pattern is to play 7 notes on a string (up 3, down 2, up 2).  The first note is picked, the next 6 notes are played legato.  The only tricky part is subdividing the beat into an even 7 count (easier said than done).  Practice accenting the first note and trying to make the remaining 6 notes even in time.  Here is the idea applied starting on the fifth fret of the low E string:

whole tone up

Here is the same idea descending (down 3, up 2, down 2) from the 17th fret on the high E string:

whole tone down


Granted this isn't a scale that you will use all of the time, but it does spice things up.  Here's musical application of these ideas.  It's a jam over an A major chord [A, C#, E] and A augmented chord [A, C#, E# (F)] vamp.    

Happy shredding...Jim