I was hearing this very interesting video by Rick Beato and Nahre Sol about the 7 modes of the "darkest scale ever" (the double harmonic major scale):

The 7 modes are as follows (name of the mode | its degrees | notes in the key of C):

  1. Double harmonic major | 1 - b2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 7 - 8 | C-Db-E-F-G-Ab-B-C

  2. Lydian #2 #6 | 1 - #2 - 3 - #4 - 5 - #6 - 7 - 8 | C-D#-E-F#-G-A#-B-C

  3. Ultraphrygian | 1 - b2 - b3 - b4 - 5 - b6 - bb7 - 8 | C-Db-Eb-Fb-G-Ab-Bbb-C

  4. Hungarian/Gypsy minor | 1 - 2 - b3 - #4 - 5 - b6 - 7 - 8 | C-D-Eb-F#-G-Ab-B-C

  5. Oriental | 1 - b2 - 3 - 4 - b5 - 6 - b7 - 8 | C-Db-E-F-Gb-A-Bb-C

  6. Ionian #2 #5 | 1 - #2 - 3 - 4 - #5 - 6 - 7 - 8 | C-D#-E-F-G#-A-B-C

  7. Locrian bb3 bb7 | 1 - b2 - bb3 - 4 - b5 - b6 - bb7 - 8 | C-Db-Ebb-F-Gb-Ab-Bbb-C

The short pieces composed in the video sound very, very interesting for some of the modes (specifically the pieces for the double harmonic major scale, the Lydian #2 #6 mode, the Ultraphrygian mode, and the Locrian bb3 bb7 mode - the rest of the pieces in the video were not actually interesting or creative, in my opinion).

It seems to me that the composers in the above video avoided to really harmonize the pieces, and instead mostly played melodic lines comprising the notes of the scales and resorted also to a drone emphasizing the chosen tonic. But some of the pieces sounded so good for me, that I was wondering how it would be to actually harmonize these dark modes and play those scales on top of full bonafide chords.

To begin with a concrete example, I have chosen to work with the C double harmonic major scale: C-Db-E-F-G-Ab-B-C. What would be the "harmonic field" of such scale?

By thinking just on the superposition of minor or major thirds, we get the following triads and tetrads, respectively:


C-E-G = C | C-E-Ab = C+,

Db-E-G = Db0 | Db-E-Ab = Dbm | Db-F-Ab = Db,

E-G-B = Em | E-Ab-B = E | E-Ab-C = E+ ~ C+,

F-Ab-B = F0 | F-Ab-C = Fm,

Ab-C-E = Ab+ ~ E+ ~ C+.


C-E-G-B = C7M | C-E-Ab-B = C7M#5,

Db-E-G-B = Dbm7b5 | Db-E-Ab-B = Dbm7 | Db-F-Ab-B = Db7 | Db-F-Ab-C = Db7M,

F-Ab-C-E = Fm7M,

Ab-C-E-G = Ab7M#5.


Curiously, there are above no chords with the tonic note on G or B. It seems unfeasible to create chords with the tonic on G or B with the notes of this scale if we choose to construct these chords by simply superposing thirds with the notes contained in the scale.

On the other hand, if we simply pick up alternate notes in this scale to construct the chords ("1-3-5" for triads and "1-3-5-7" for tetrads), the harmonic field would be, considering triads and tetrads, respectively:


I: C-E-G = C [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

II: Db-F-Ab = Db [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

iii: E-G-B = Em [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

iv: F-Ab-C = Fm [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

Vb5: G-B-Db = G(#11) (or Bsus2/G) [ABSENT in the previous list of tertiary chords, since B-Db IS NOT A THIRD]

VI+: Ab-C-E = Ab+ [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

vii0b3: B-Db-F = Bsus2(#11) [ABSENT in the previous list of tertiary chords, since B-Db IS NOT A THIRD]


C-E-G-B = C7M [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

Db-F-Ab-C = Db7M [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

E-G-B-Db = Em6 [ABSENT in the previous list of tertiary chords, since B-Db IS NOT A THIRD]

F-Ab-C-E = Fm7M [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

G-B-Db-F = G7(#11) (or Bsus2(#11)/G) [ABSENT in the previous list of tertiary chords, since B-Db IS NOT A THIRD]

Ab-C-E-G = Ab7M#5 [present in the previous list of tertiary chords]

B-Db-F-Ab = B6sus2(#11) (or Db7/B) [ABSENT in the previous list of tertiary chords, since B-Db IS NOT A THIRD]


Actually, I have been unable yet to create good sounding cadences with the intended dark mood for such scale with these chords. I don't know if it is a lack of creativity from myself, or if such "exotic scales" do not harmonize well by following the above reasonings.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

Maybe someone here would be interested in creating some piece(s) with an actually decent harmonization for these dark modes and upload a video somewhere? By "decent harmonization" I mean playing actual chords and cadences (and not just a drone emphasizing the tonic) which sound good and dark, and on top of which arpeggios and the dark scales would fit well.

  • 1
    This is in C# double harmonic major (not the whole piece, but started at the linked time point to the end): soundcloud.com/user-46193841/… You might say I harmonized it more contrapuntally than with chords, but I did harmonize it. I definitely used iv - I and I - iv progressions. I also added some chromatic alterations. The brass and harp are playing triads with various extensions at different times during this excerpt. – Todd Wilcox Jan 27 at 4:46
  • In terms of the question, I think when composing modally, like Rick Beato is prone to do, the concept of "harmonizing" gets a little fuzzy. You can play any chord you like along with any melody note. There's no right or wrong about it, you just get different flavors. So the question of "how to harmonize" anything has the same answer: However you want to harmonize it. The question of a "good sounding cadence" is totally subjective. I found a lot of cadences when composed the except linked above. You might not find them "good sounding" but I stand by them. – Todd Wilcox Jan 27 at 4:54
  • 1
    One more note: B - Db is most definitely a third. It's a diminished third. – Todd Wilcox Jan 27 at 4:54
  • I can't find double harmonic major to be the darkest scale ever when it has a major third and no minor third above the tonic. I consider the Phrygian scale to be darker than it for that reason. – Dekkadeci Jan 27 at 13:40
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    brb, I need to make a modern metal/djent version of the G Ultraphrygian passage... – dissemin8or Jan 27 at 23:01
  1. Please note that chords like G7b5 (G-B-Db-F) are used on a regular basis in jazz and there is nothing "wrong" with them.

  2. You may want to explore incomplete chords. E.g. G-B-F-Ab suggests the sound of G7b9, and avoids a bit awkward (though also "legal") sound of G7b9b5.

B-F-Ab is another way to suggest the sound of Bo7, even if it doesn't contain Db. But it may also sound like Fo/B, so that's less clear example.

  1. You're exploring the area not exactly intended to be covered by typically used rules of harmony. Don't be afraid to experiment and use your ears: they will tell you what sounds well and what doesn't.
  • I think point 3 is the best answer. – Todd Wilcox Jan 27 at 4:50

Building tertian triads and seventh chords on each scale degree is an idea you are borrowing from diatonic harmony. But, while the diatonic scale will give you chords I ii iii IV V vi viio I the harmony used to make clear tonality is essential V I with a subdominant like ii6 or IV. You can use that as a point of departure for harmonizing the double harmonic scale.

Obviously, we have a major triad possible on the tonic. We also can get a minor triad on the subdominant. That provides a pretty stable basis for a tonality and covers 6 of the 7 scale degrees. On the dominant scale degree we can build an altered dominant seventh chord. In smooth voice leading that gives us...

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An interesting thing about those chords is they can be re-interpreted as the members of a augmented sixth chord half cadence...

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...in that sense there is a kind of familiarity to this collection of chords and strong cadential potential, but the roles of I and iv are swapped.

Instead of trying to harmonize the scale tones as roots for triads and seventh chord use various voicings and inversions of I iv Valt. If scale degrees ^1 ^3 ^5 in the bass are harmonized with the tonic chord, it will provide a nice flow between stable and unstable chords.

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