Since I only know some very rudimentary terms in music theory, I don't know what it's called when one does the following to create a sort-of interesting sound.

Suppose I'm playing the piano, using my left hand to repeatedly hit the note C as a very simple bass line to give the key of my song (C major). Then I use my right hand to play a melody that fits within the key, but instead of playing notes in the C scale to get a 'cleanly fitting' sound I rather go for playing the melody using the G scale, creating a slightly unusual deviation from what one would expect from a song in the C key.

When I try this out, it creates a sound that I recognize from some songs (for instance the intro song in Disney's Beauty and the Beast uses this kind of 'harmonization' when the villagers greet each other) and the sound feels so natural that I think that the concept of playing the melody in a different scale than the 'expected one', given the key, should be somewhat well known/understood.

Does this kind of 'harmonization' have a name (in the case where we use the dominant (V) scale instead of the scale indicated by the key (I))? And more generally, are other scales than (V) in the melody commonly used to create a 'special feel' to a song?

  • 8
    The way the question is phrased, the bassline is hardly using a scale. One note is a drone or ostinato, and could be major or minor, so not a scale as such.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 9:02
  • 2
    The G scale has C in it.
    – Kaz
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 6:56
  • Shouldn't we close this question, wait for clarification fixing the discrepancy between text and title and only then answer it?
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 16:02
  • @Kaz Yes G has C in it, but if you put the C in the left hand, the overall tonality becomes C. G/C = C major 9. F/G = Gsus9, Db/G=G(b9)(#11) etc. In all these cases one note in the bass sets the overall tonality. The OP is asking about these kinds of cases, with one overall tonality, and a different one in the right hand. As many answers explain, it's called "bitonality", and extremely common in pop music. Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 22:57

6 Answers 6


Suppose I'm playing the piano, using my left hand to repeatedly hit the note C as a very simple bass line to give the key of my song (C major). Then I use my right hand to ... [play] the melody using the G scale...

If you're playing notes as found in the G major scale in the right hand, but establishing C as your home note in the bass (without further establishing a different scale in the bass), you are effectively putting yourself not in C major, but in C Lydian (C D E F# G A B).

Your example there though is arguably not quite what's described in the title of the question (Melody using a different scale than the bassline) - If you genuinely and consciously use two different scales, then you are into the world of polytonality. But as per my first sentence, I think what your example describes is more simply looked at as use of a mode.

And more generally, are other scales than (V) in the melody commonly used to create a 'special feel' to a song?

Again, if we're talking about (modern) modes - there are seven of them, one of which corresponds to the major scale, one of which corresponds to the natural minor, and 5 others. Apart from perhaps the Locrian mode, there are well-known examples of all of them. If we explain your example in terms of modes, then rather than thinking of it as V in the melody, we might also think of it as the major scale but with IV as the home note.


This may not be exactly in line with your particular example, but there is a phenomenon known as the melodic-harmonic "divorce" in rock music. It basically states that the sung melodies in rock/pop music are often at odds with the tonality implied by the accompanying harmonies. One famous article explaining this concept, if you're interested, can be found here.


Kind of depends on which of your two scenarios we're supposed to answer for.

In the title, you state that two different "scales" are in use. This makes the answer to your question Polytonality. Exactly what it says on the box, polytonality is the use in a section or piece of music of two or more different keys.

Anyone who used the Schaum piano method when learning to play ought to remember Henry's Hennery! In this case, G-maj melody & F#-maj bass line.

In the body of your question, you're just hitting a C over and over again. This is no longer really a bass line per so, playing just one constant note makes this a drone plain and simple. Much like this musette. In this case, polytonality, modes and so forth will never even figure into the picture!

  • 2
    The OP's example probably cannot be considered polytonal, as the LH is only playing one note (not a full scale) and that note is part of the scale being using in the RH.
    – Max
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 0:02
  • @Max - Thanks for pointing that out! Though in fairness, the title question's answer I think is polytonality.
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 4:08

While the Lydian mode comes immediately to mind - C Lydian varying from C major by only F♯ instead of F - as mentioned in topo's answer, another thought occurred.

That F♯ could be considered as G♭, which happens to be the flat five that dwells in a lot of blues. Thus giving a slight blues tinge to the melody. Blues will use F, G♭ and G♮ from the note pool, but that 'odd' note hints at blues.

Lydian is used a lot in Jazz, where the changed note is usually referred to technically as ♯4, whereas in blues, the very same note is usually called ♭5.

EDIT: regarding your last question - yes the idea gets used quite a bit. Imagine you use the scale notes from key C major. There are six other ways to use those notes, resulting in different flavours to pieces. Tonic C - Ionian mode/ major. Tonic D - Dorian mode, a minor feel. Tonic E - Phrygian mode - another minor feel. Tonic F - Lydian mode, where your 'playing in G' comes from. Tonic G - Mixolydian mode, with a m7 note, sounds a little bluesy. Tonic A - Aeolian mode, the natural minor. Tonic B - Locrian mode - a somewhat weird sounding key, not really stable.


Phrases or melodies in two different keys are bitonal, as in Charles Ives' Three Places in New England in which two marching bands pass each other while playing two different marches in different keys. Some composers use an bitonal approach consistently as their style (Copeland, for example).


Actually, since you ask for a specific song (and mention that there are "many others which feel the same"), then the other answers are wrong :) There's neither lydian scale nor modal harmony, nor bitonality in the intro of "Beauty and the Beast".

What you ask for is the "pedal note" or the "pedal point", a very common device (both in archaic music, where it's known as burdon, and in modern popular music), which is all about leaving a single, strong note in bass for extended duration, while the harmony shifts and changes above it. Sometimes (not always) it's noted with slash chords (e.g. C F/C G/C F/C would make a nice pop vamp on the piano).

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