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Till now i've been learning to construct chord's by stacking / altering notes in the MAJOR scale and its modes.

What about other types of exotic scales ?

I can see lot of exotic scales here -> IanRing Music theory ( Scales )

Can someone explain in simplest terms for an intermediate guitarist ?

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    What else could there possibly be, besides stacking and altering notes? Aug 2 at 10:17
  • Well, you pick some notes from that scale and play them together! But that's obvious. Are you really asking how to construct functional harmony using exotic scales? Progressions that PROGRESS rather than 'we'll noodle on this chord for a bit, then move to this one' (though that's fine too!)
    – Laurence
    Aug 2 at 11:49
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    What have you tried so far? Did it work? Did it not work? Some exotic scales are only traditionally used over drones - so no chords used - or needed.
    – Tim
    Aug 2 at 15:54
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    The concept of making chords from scales is very limited, and runs out of steam very quickly. -1 for a flawed concept.
    – Tim
    Aug 2 at 18:59
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    What kind of a person would use this app, and for what purpose? It seems like a bizarre thing. Aug 2 at 20:33

4 Answers 4

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This is a practical question that is restricted by some definitions, like "what is a scale" and "what is a chord." Part of the problem is that many of the modes listed on that page come from contexts that aren't thinking about "chords." Medieval church modes have roots in monophonic (i.e. "just melody") contexts; Indian ragas have more to do with linear relationships from note to note than with vertical "chords"; and I confess I don't know what Messaien was up to with his modes, but I bet it was pretty far removed from triadic harmony. So, in other words, many of these "scales" aren't meant for making chords.

The other tricky question is "what is a chord." At some point, like with the Messaien modes, these "scales" are simply collections of notes. Some early-20th-century music theory gets so far from traditional western tonal theory that instead of talking about "chords" and "scales" you start talking simply about collections of pitches—pitches that are played at the same time (chord-like), and the total collection of pitches in an area or piece (scale-like). By this definition, you make a "chord" out of a "scale" simply by combining its notes.

But I suspect that's more of a historical niche point than you're looking for. For more practical advice, here are some things to consider:

  1. It's not all about chords. The vast majority of the musics made throughout history and around the globe have been monophonic, more concerned with "melody" than with stacking up notes and naming the stacks, if you will. If you want to broaden your musical contexts, meet these music-cultures on their own terms; find and try playing Bulgarian or Balinese tunes, linearly.
  2. Scales can be more than grab-bags of notes. The major scale forms triadic chords easily because it covers "all the letter names"; you just skip from C to E to G and you have a "chord." Some "scales" have gaps and sometimes these gaps hint at rules or conventions about how you move from note to note. The western melodic minor scale has a "leading tone" as its 7th degree, and this goes along with a cultural convention that strongly suggests that it resolve to the ^1. The harmonic minor has the same ^7 pitch, but with its lower ^6, one might bounce back and forth across the step-and-a-half between ^6 and ^7 to court an Eastern-European feeling. The blues scale has big gaps and tight half-steps, and comes with conventions about how you not only move from note to note but bend certain notes themselves. Carnatic ragas are not just scales, but come with even more explicit rules about moving from note to note and certain ornamentations.

Your comment shows that you're working on "a chord a day," and looking for raw materials from which to create chords. This is an intriguing exercise, but scales are not just "things to build chords from," and chords themselves are not just stacks of notes or hand-stretches. They're like words: I could teach you a word right now in an unfamiliar alphabet and you would know how to construct it, but until you know its meaning and how to use it in a phrase, you're missing a very big picture.

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  • +1 or the last para. at least. Trying to make 'chords from scales' is pretty well a non starter - unless we use predominantly major and minor scales.
    – Tim
    Aug 2 at 18:57
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    To add to the list of harmful myths regarding scales and chords: (3) scales are not immutable: you can modify your scale during a piece, make your G sharp or natural, and this changes the set of possible intervals and chords, (4) scales don't sound and therefore are not concrete: unless a G sharp or G natural is actually played, it is not harmonic or melodic anything, (5) songs are almost never "in a scale": players or composers may think about and use a scale as a reference grid, to achieve a certain result. Aug 2 at 19:06
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    Good answer! Messiaen used his own special scales sort of like a palette to select from when building chords. The octatonic scales, for example, allowed him to use a lot of major triads without being tied to functional tonality. In building complex chords Messiaen was interested in color combinations, based on literally how he saw the sounds, and in exploring the high upper partials of the overtone series to create spiritually dazzling effects of sensory overload. Aug 3 at 14:34
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If you are asking about how you could build chords based on scales you've found on Ian Ring's site (or elsewhere), certainly you can just pick notes out of the scale and play them together.

If you use the Scale Finder on that site, you'll also see that each scale's description page includes not only a list of the common triads that can be constructed from the notes of that scale, but even graph showing a sequence of those triads arranged for "parsimonious voice leading" (in other words, a progression).

Some of those "exotic" scales also have cultural traditions attached to them that will give a better idea of how chords might be used (if at all) with those scales.

It's also important to note that the set of pitch classes used in a melody does not have to be the same exact set of pitch classes used in chords played with the melody. For example, see this question and its accepted answer:

What are the full set of chords allowed in a Double Harmonic scale?

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enter image description hereWhat a great question! Every intuition suggests that exotic scales/modes would produce exotic harmonies, right? But let me offer three examples of something I've found.

2 The exotic-ness of the scale appears in the melody. The chords are pretty ordinary. Example #1: Pentatonic melodies are accompanied by chords that use the "missing" notes. Take "Amazing Grace." If we sing it in F, there are only five tones in the melody: F-G-A-C-D. However, the second chord (even when harmonizing the tune in a simple way) changes to Bb at the word "sweet." (Amazing grace, how sweet the sound."

And this is hardly unusual for pentatonic melodies! If the chords matched the "exotic" scale, we could get neither IV nor V. (IV requires scale degree 4 and V requires scale degree 7.)

2 Listen to "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis. None of the chords are exotic, though we hear modal melodies and (more importantly) unusual key shifting from phrase to phrase or section to section. That's what gives the ground-breaking album its exotic harmonic qualities.

[3] When "classical" composers like Maurice Ravel dipped their toes (or torsos) into modality, we find the same practice. Typical chords in the accompaniment that support modal melodies. Here's a reduction of a famous moment from his String Quartet.

So, friend, I'd encourage you to relax on which chords you use. Compose your exotic melody first, then find "ordinary" chords to support it. Do that, and you'll be in excellent company!

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    Relating to the Ravel (and Debussy's) string quartet and chord types, I found this dissertation a while back and found it very interesting: Jenkins, A Comparative Study of the Harmonic Equipment and Formal Features in the String Quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc663181 He counted chord type occurrences and found triads at 30% for Ravel and 37% for Debussy. Higher than I would have expected. Aug 3 at 20:16
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When you build chord by stacking up thirds from diatonic scales it's called tertian harmony. That's one way, but not the only way to generate harmony.

Before our current theory of harmony, based on chord root progression and chord inversion, harmony was considered the interaction of contrapuntal lines and figured bass was they popular system for chords.

When dealing with exotic scales you might consider yet other approaches to harmony. In particular I'm thinking of how some of the exotic scales appear in folk music with drone accompaniment rather than chord progressions. The drone idea can be extended a bit into something like a two chord vamp. You will find that kind of thing in folk music.

Another thing to consider is how some exotic scales are described as the superimposing of two chords, the diminished scale is an example where two diminished seventh chords are offset by either a half or whole step to produce the tones of the two types of diminished scales. That doesn't mean you are limited to those chords, but it might help you think about how to handle harmony when using the scale.

Another concept to think about is cross relationship which is when a particular pitch letter is found with two different sharp/flat/natural forms simultaneously or in very close proximity. You don't necessarily need to make every pitch letter in melody match pitch letters in chords. A very common example would be blues music where you might have a major third in a chord - like B natural in a G7 chord - but a minor third in the melody - like a B flat in melody over that G7 chord. Also, you might find a "flat five" in a blues scale, but that scale tone would not normally be used for chords.

So, when working with an exotic scale, you could just allow the dissonance of cross relationships, and consider it part of the exotic "flavor" or the music.

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