When I taught beginner’s sax to ten-year-olds I used to ask them what was the first tune they wanted to start work on right away. There was a clear sex divide in their preferences. “Doh, a deer” and “East Enders Theme” were favourites with the girls. Top choices for the boys were: The Simpsons, The Pink Panther, and Mission Impossible, closely followed by James Bond. These tunes all share one thing in common: no amount of diatonic scale practice is going to help you nail them! So I ask myself, why don’t we give these “exotic” scales (that half the world seems to prefer!), the same treatment as regular scales, and practice them every day in all 12 keys? Part of the answer may be, well, where do we stop? But I also think the problem comes down to musical instrument design. Just take a look at the arbitrary shapes made by the blues scale on the traditional piano keyboard as you turn the dial on my “What’s in a scale?” page:
As you can see, it’s just too much to take in! Which is why I advocate whole-tone based instruments on which any scale will only have two shapes to cover all 12 houses.
Let’s look at the boys’ all-time favourite TV theme, the Simpsons, which scale-wise changes every four measures with a sprinkling of wholetone, blues and other scales. The tune itself kicks off in a scale which turns up in a lot of Romanian “Lautareasca” music: 4 2 1 2 1 2. Old timers may be reminded of the Pick of the Pops theme, aka At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal, which announces a similar scale with a choice of major or minor seconds:
I doubt even Romanian accordeonists work this scale in all 12 houses, and this is where guitarists have the edge. As you know, when a guitarist wants to transpose up a halfstep he simply moves his axe to the left. To help them, I made a special version of “What’s in a Scale” with a moveable frame for each left hand position. Now they have no excuses left!!
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