In this tutorial, you're going to learn what is and how to use the augmented scale. It's not an easy scale like the pentatonic or major scale; it has a dissonant sound and does not fit well all the musical contexts, but it's really useful when you want to create tension to be resolved or unusual feelings. Are you ready? Let's begin. It all starts with...
Before we dive into the augmented scale let’s have a brief review of the augmented chord. If you remember your music theory the augmented triad is made up of two major thirds. In a basic major C chord the notes are C E G the C to E note is a major third apart and the E to G is a minor third apart. So, for an augmented chord we need to two major thirds, so we sharpen the G, this sharpened fifth note is “augmented”.
This C aug chord is made up of the notes C E G# and can also be notated as C+. A couple famous songs that use an augmented chord are “Oh Darling” by The Beatles, “A Town Without Pity” by Gene Pitney, and “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville.
Augmented chords can be used to replace fifth and third chords in an effort to create harmonic tension. Listen to the very beginning of “Oh Darling” above, the initial chord that Paul sings over is an E augmented chord, quickly followed by an A major chord. That brief musical moment at the start sets the tone with tension evolving into resolution. Augmented chords are not used too much and often briefly, like pepper it can quickly ruin a dish or song.
Because an augmented chord is a third stacked upon a third, the augmented scale is a hexatonic scale (it only has 6 notes). The other hexatonic scales are the whole tone scale, tritone scale, and the blues scale. The augmented scale is literally made up of two augmented triads. The C aug or C+ scale is:
C D# E G Ab B
Note that the C-E-Ab is an augmented chord and two major thirds apart as well as the D#-G-B.
Interactive guitar fretboard: click the play button to listen to the scale
If you wish to apply this scale pattern to other keys the intervals are:
Because this scale is symmetrical and stacked in major triads it can only be transposed to 4 different keys. So, every major third will have the same augmented scale:
C, E, and Ab are the same augmented scale, as are Db, F, and A, as are D, F#, B, and finally Eb, G, and B are also the same scale.
This symmetry makes it easier on the player to only have to memorize four scales.
It is not always obvious when to use the augmented scale, it requires a bit of experimentation. Augmented chords have a harsh and unstable sound and do not exist in a major key. However, the scale can both sound major and minor!
Normally jazz and fusion artists are the more likely to use the augmented scale, but regardless of genre the scale can add a unique tension to your music. If you write and play more in a pop style of music it will be used sparsely, but in a genre that loves longer and experimental improvisation the scale is much more useful. After all the augmented scale was not popular until the bebop jazz of the 50’s.
The scale works over augmented chords, but also maj7#5 chords, and maj7 chords. Here are a few examples of instances where the C augmented scale may be used;
- Along with major chords As above with “Oh Darling” the aug scale can be used in conjunction with major chords. Remember you only have 4 augmented scales and chords so it doesn’t take much to find what goes with the chord you are using.
- C+ any augmented chord will work with the scale. Considering the notes are C-E-G# this will be an obvious placement when playing the scale.
- Cmaj7 made up of the notes C-E-G-B, which are included in the C aug scale. However, the scale will not always work over chords like this, even though it shares a major 7th.
- Cmaj7#5 of course the scale plays great with a chord like this because the scale includes a major 7th and a sharpened or augmented fifth. This chord here will be your obvious go to when first improvising with the augmented scale.
- Cm(maj7) this chord is made up of the notes C-Eb-G-B making it a potential candidate for the aug scale.
Here below a comparison table with the formula of the augmented scale and the chords that match well with it:
m(maj7) | Minor chord with Major 7th
We can also use the scale over extended chords like:
- D7#11: this chord is made up of the notes D-F#-A-C-E-G#, the last three notes being the same in the C aug scale.
- Dbm(maj7): the notes Db-E-Ab-C, again the last three notes are shared.
- Dm9b5: has the notes D-F-Ab-C-E, another chord where the last three notes are shared.
We added these extended chords in above to show just how far you can go in experimentingwith the augmented scale. Yes, it only has four iterations and yes, it is not as musically fitting as some of the other more common scales. However, the more complicated your improvisation and jazz gets, the more the augmented scale may find a place in your music.
Now if we haven’t already been too confusing, the augmented scale at times has certain avoid notes. There will be times where you will find that playing the scale over a chord will have a pitch that is just way off. Which is a bit ironic, because the whole point of the augmented notes is dissonance and tension, however there are times where a certain note will sound terrible.
There are charts of which notes to avoid over which scales, but in the end using your ear is really your best bet. The more mistakes you make with avoid notes the better your ear gets at finding the best times to use the augmented scale.
In the following you find some fretboard patterns for the augmented scale with C note as root. Always remember that scale patterns should be not considered as fixed shapes, but, with a bit of fretboard notes knowledge, you should create your own fingerings, depending on the musical context.
C Augmented Scale with root on the sixth string
C Augmented Scale with root on the fifth string
C Augmented Scale with root on the fourth string
At the end of the day the best thing to do with this hexatonic scale is to play and memorize all four symmetrical scales. Then start applying them to songs that include maj7#5 chords as it will often fit perfectly in those spots. After you have gotten the augmented scales down on the fretboard then you can start experimenting with the other chords above or something new.
Get crazy, get jazzy, the entire point of the augmented chord and scale is to create tension and dissonance, sprinkled into the right part of a song and you will not only wow the crowd but other musicians as well. For any question or comment just drop a line in the section below!
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