I like scary sounding scales so I research them a lot. I see alot of youtubers consider the double harmonic major to be the "darkest scale" or "most evil scale". I've seen multiple videos on this from different people so this isn't necessarily subjective/opinionated. See Here, here, and here.

I was wondering why isn't the double harmonic minor (aka hungarian minor, the fourth mode of this scale) considered darker. I always associated minor scales with a more darker sound. Is there a reason they keep bringing up the major as the scariest scale?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Richard, Todd Wilcox, Shevliaskovic, Tim, Doktor Mayhem Jun 5 at 22:08

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    Me, I always thought the Phrygian scale was darker than the double harmonic major scale. The major 3rd scale degree in the double harmonic major scale kinda ruins things for me darkness-wise, while at least the Phrygian scale keeps a minor 3rd scale degree. – Dekkadeci Jun 4 at 23:59
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    People will make all kinds of bold claims in YouTube videos, and choose titles that promise secret knowledge about how to create music. "The most EVIL scale ever!!!" will generate more clicks than "this sounds slightly exotic". Plus they all rip off each other's videos, so finding several doesn't make it any less subjective or opinionated. Listen to the Debussy example; a good composer can use the scale for any kind of mood. Cherry-picked examples can prove anything. Clouds moving across a full moon don't prove the scale is "dark", but that it can be made to sound dark by framing it as such. – Your Uncle Bob Jun 5 at 0:02
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    There can be no objective measure of “darkest scale”, and it doesn’t make any sense anyway. Both bright and dark music can be composed using the exact same scale. – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 at 1:12
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    There are exactly the same number of minor thirds available in all seven diatonic modes. Saying a minor third is often used to convey sadness doesn’t lead to and scale being tied to any emotion. – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 at 20:55
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    This is entirely off topic @foreyez - thinking there is evidence that when people are sad their voice tends to attenuate in minor thirds is incredibly western centric. Your study there doesn't seem to say what you only, and in fact seems incredibly limited in scope. – Doktor Mayhem Jun 5 at 22:11

THere's nothing especially creepy or sinister about double harmonic major. I only watched your first video, but what made it creepy had nothing to do with that scale.

Double harmonic major is used in a lot of middle eastern music, or music meant to convey a middle-eastern (or even Moorish) flavor. Consider:

  1. Pulp Fiction, Main Theme
  2. Some improvisation I found online
  3. Misirlou
  4. The delicate La soirée dans Grenade by Debussy.

EDIT: I realize that I somewhat misunderstood the question. As I explained, the premise is a bit amiss because double harmonic major is not intrinsically dark or evil, but I didn't address the question in the title directly.

As for why some might declare it "darker" than double harmonic minor, one can speculate that it could be for the following reasons: Double harmonic major has a b2, which is a less frequent than the b3 in double harmonic minor, and I guess I can fathom that someone could declare something unusual to be "evil" sounding, even if the claim makes little sense. Double harmonic minor also has the augmented 4th degree, which gives a bit of a bright lift.

  • Good point. Many cultures use these scales as a basis of harmony. Reminds me of how the Japanese minor pentatonic scale [G A B♭ D E♭] sounded like the tonic was G to me, but when I listened to a lot of traditional Japanese music, I discovered that I was hearing those same notes used with D as the tonic! Culturar environment is undeniably linked to perception. – user45266 Jun 5 at 1:48
  • Pulp fiction's main theme was Dick Dale's Misirlou, which is the same as your #3 played in a different version, all of which were inspired by the Greek rembetiko Misirlou: youtube.com/watch?v=LW6qGy3RtwY , although it was Dick Dale's version that brought it in the mainstream – Shevliaskovic Jun 5 at 8:59
  • @Shevliaskovic That's wonderful!!! I knew it sounded familiar, but I didn't place it until you mentioned. SMH!! – Ben I. Jun 5 at 11:00
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    @foreyez Not only is it double harmonic major, it is double harmonic major without exceptions. (As in, there are no mode-switching moments when it leaves double harmonic major at all.) While I acknowledge the videos you found, I'm sorry to say that they were genuinely wrong. There is nothing intrinsically creepy about DHM. It's basically an Arabic scale. – Ben I. Jun 5 at 11:48
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    @foreyez Also, check out my edit. I tried to address your question more directly. – Ben I. Jun 5 at 16:22

In Indian music bhairav is a very basic raga – among the first that a beginner learns and corresponds to double harmonic major. Sure if you look at the etymology of "bhairav" it represents Shiva in his destructive aspect. But I don't believe most Indians hear bhairavi with that association😀

  • I see bhairav got spell corrected to bhairavi (phrygian). Even more terrifying than Shiva in the mythology and even more normal in the music. Every Indian concert traditionally ends with bhairavi. – Rusi Jun 5 at 6:33

I think that one of the effects contributing to this scale's usage in "dark/evil" sounding pieces is that the double harmonic major (from now on, DHM) scale [1 ♭2 3 4 5 ♭6 7] can be used as a dominant scale, whereas the double harmonic minor (DHm) scale [1 2 ♭3 ♯4 5 ♭6 7] usually is not used as a dominant scale. Dominant scales tend to be less stable-sounding, and I suppose that could make them objectively "more dark-sounding", but I'd be careful with making any such claims.

(Here's an experiment for you: Play a 7♭9 chord, and see whether it sounds darker to you than a m7♭9 chord. To me at least, even though the 7♭9 chord has a major third, it sounds more sinister.)

While neither scale sounds particularly stable due to the altered notes (compared to major and minor, respectively), DHM is able to be effectively implemented over dominant chords. Most dominant scales contain the minor 7th degree, but this one has a major 7th. I don't think it's too much of a big deal theory-wise to call it a dominant scale, since the dominant chord doesn't really even need to be a dominant 7th chord, and it's not like one's chords and scales have to perfectly match anyway. However, DHm is much more stable as a minor scale. DHM can of course support a major tonality, but DHm sounds much more stable due largely to its minor third.

For those not up on their theory (I wasn't, until this question was asked):

Double Harmonic Major is a heptatonic scale with a lot of other names. In C major, it's C-D♭-E-F-G-A♭-B. One of its modes is appropriately named Double Harmonic Minor, and in C, it's C-D-E♭-F♯-G-A♭-B.

I think the reason the two are named this way is because each has a pair of augmented second leaps (like the ♭6-7 leap in harmonic minor). In DHM, it's between the ♭2-3 and the ♭6-7. In DHm, ♭3-♯4 and ♭6-7.

Notice that the two scales are modes of each other, but not of the same modal family as major, or of the modal families of any of the three commonly used minor scales.

Double Harmonic Major is kind of like combining the most convoluted parts of Phrygian Dominant and Harmonic minor.

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