ap music theory study guides

2.4 Other Scales: Chromatic, Whole-Tone, and Pentatonic






โฑ๏ธย ย 3 min read

written by

Mickey Hansen

mickey hansen

Caroline Koffke

caroline koffke


November 2, 2020

2.4 Other Scales: Chromatic, Whole-Tone, and Pentatonic

In addition to the major and minor scales, there are a couple of other important scales that appear in various types of music. We need to be able to identify these scales by ear ๐Ÿ‘‚ and by sight ๐Ÿ‘€.

Chromatic scale: this scale incorporates every single note possible! In other words, it ascends and descends entirely by half-steps. This means that in one octave, there are 12 different pitches (13 when you resolve to the original pitch, an octave higher or lower.)

Here is what is looks like:


Listen to this example of chromatic scale going up!

And going down:


Listen to the chromatic scale going down!

There is not a strict rule for whether you use sharps or flats, upwards or downwards, or a combination of both. The most important guideline is that there is only a half-step between the notes.

The next unique scale is the whole-tone scale. Like the chromatic scale that only uses half-steps, the whole-tone scale only uses whole-steps.


In addition, you can identify the whole-tone scale by eye ๐Ÿ‘€ because it only has 6 different scale degrees, versus 7 in a major or minor scale. Remember that the last note in the examples are the resolution of the scale (the tonic), so it repeats the original pitch of the scale. If we include the tonic again, all major and minor scales have 8 notes total, and the whole-note scale would have 7.

Here is the whole-tone scale in treble clef:


Listen to the scale in treble clef for the whole tone!

And in the bass clef:


Listen to the whole tone scale in bass clef!

Whole-tone scales can either use sharps or flats, but the most important definition of the scale is that every interval in the scale is a whole-step.

There is one more type of scale that lives outside the major and minor (and other modes) <hyperlink to Unit 8> which is called the pentatonic scale.

The prefix "pent" is Latin (and Greek ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท) for 5, and it tells us that this scale is built with five different pitches.

There are two different types of pentatonic scales, both major and minor. In the table below, both the major and minor pentatonic scales can be constructed by using a regular major scale. See how you alter the notes:


(m3 = minor 3rd) (WS = whole step)

Below is a written example of a minor pentatonic scale, starting on A.


Listen to the minor pentatonic scale on A!

Next you can view the major pentatonic scale starting on D:


Listen to the major pentatonic scale on D!

โžก๏ธ For the APยฎ Test, you will not be tested on the difference between a major and minor pentatonic scale, you just need to know that a scale with five notes WILL be a pentatonic scale!

Fun fact! You can take the minor pentatonic scale, add one note to it (between the 3rd and 4th notes of the above MINOR example, add an Eb/D#) and you suddenly have the blues scale.


๐Ÿฆœ Polly wants a progress tracker: How many notes does the chromatic scale have? How about the whole-tone scale? And finally the pentatonic scale?

continue learning

Slide 1 of 14

Join Our Community

Fiveable Community students are already meeting new friends, starting study groups, and sharing tons of opportunities for other high schoolers. Soon the Fiveable Community will be on a totally new platform where you can share, save, and organize your learning links and lead study groups among other students!๐ŸŽ‰

Fiveable Logo

2550 north lake drive
suite 2
milwaukee, wi 53211

92% of Fiveable students earned a 3 or higher on their 2020 AP Exams.

*apยฎ and advanced placementยฎ are registered trademarks of the college board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

ยฉ fiveable 2020 | all rights reserved.