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If you are as obsessed with Jacob Collier as I am, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not, it is essentially a scale that continually modulates, taking you through multiple keys. Jacob coined the Super Ultra Hyper Mega Meta Lydian scale, which takes a Lydian voicing (C-D-F#-G-A-B) and continues the pattern upward (C-D-F#-G-A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-...) indefinitely.

After some analysis and playing around with it I noticed something interesting about the pattern. We often represent scales in terms of their Whole and half steps (i.e. Major = w-w-h-w-w-w-h). If we do this with the Super Ultra Hyper Mega Meta Lydian scale we get this: w-w-w-h-w-w-w-h-w-w-w-h-w-w-w-h... Instead of asymmetric chunks ([w-w-h]-[w-w-w-h]) we get symmetric ones ([w-w-w-h]-[w-w-w-h]-[w-w-w-h]-[w-w-w-h]...) These even sub groups cause us to overshoot the octave and essentially extend our scale outside of the key.

So, this got me thinking, what if we use a similar mechanism, but with different patterns? We end up with some rather interesting results that, IMO, sound pretty awesome. I've listed some below (along with my own silly names for them).

Diminished Whole Tone (this is basically a whole tone scale, shifting down a half step every octave)
w-w-w-w-w-h-w-w-w-w-w-h = C-D-E-F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D-F-G-A-Bb...

Lydian Extra Enhanced Aggrandized Augmented (this is essentially an extension of the Lydian Augmented scale)
w-w-w-w-h-w-w-w-w-h = C-D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb...

Sub Diminutive Infinitesimal Teensy Weensy Mixolydian (this is similar to Super Ultra Hyper Mega Meta Lydian, but going down the circle of fifths instead of up)
w-w-h-w-w-h-w-w-h-w-w-h = C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-B-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb

To be clear: These are not really scales. Jacob Collier himself refers to them as "sounds". I see them as an effective means of modulation and a neat trick in improvisation.

That said, I have come up with a bunch of new, revolutionary ideas, only to find out that they have already existed for a long time and I have simply not heard of them. I'm curious if there is any facet of music theory that gets into this sort of thing (or similar). Even if indirectly, is there some way to classify and explain these types of "scales"?

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    I think you're talking about "jazz", which can get pretty deep down the rabbit hole of theory. Check out Adam Neely's take on it in his video when he gets to "7th level" jazz theory: youtube.com/watch?v=lz3WR-F_pnM – Alphonso Balvenie Sep 13 '19 at 4:41
  • around 11 minutes. – Alphonso Balvenie Sep 13 '19 at 4:42
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    The biggest music theory word I know of for this sort of thing is "non-octave-equivalent scales": scales which do not repeat at the octave. I don't actually know anything about those, and have never heard any use of them outside of that one interview Collier did where he talked about it, so I'll let someone else answer :) – user45266 Sep 13 '19 at 5:09
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    @AlphonsoBalvenie Neely's video actually makes no mention of the topic OP has brought up in this post. The "scales" in the post above are not even close to common knowledge within the jazz community (not really common knowledge anywhere), so I don't think "jazz" is a very helpful label. Certainly, there is no connection between Neely's 7 Levels of Jazz Harmony and this post. – user45266 Sep 13 '19 at 5:13
  • One term that comes to mind is "tetrachord" from ancient Greek music, which means four notes, i.e. CDEF. If you repeat that a whole step higher you CDEF GABC. I don't think that's what you're looking for though, since that's mostly in the context of tuning, but what you're suggesting is essentially a repeated tetrachord. Also, didn't I see this question on reddit? – awe lotta Dec 22 '19 at 5:28
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What you're describing already exists. It is known as the Circle of 5ths (or 4ths if you go the other way). The regular diatonic major scale (Ionian) is symmetrical. Repeating symmetry; two identical tetrachords separated by a whole step between (w-w-h-w-w-w-h). Not "asymmetric chunks." Once you realize this and learn to think of scales this way, you will realize that all major scales can be linked / overlapped around the Circle of 5ths by their tetrachords. The second half of each major scale is the first half of the next and therefore you could link them all saying the pattern "repeats indefinitely" yadda yadda:

C-D-E-F … G-A-B-C … D-E-F#-G … A-B-C#-D … E-F#-G#-A … B-C#-D#-E … F#-G#-A#-B

(C Maj …… G Maj ……… D Maj …..… A Maj ……… E Maj ……… B Maj …… … F# Maj ……)

All Jacob did was apply this repeating symmetry to the first half of Lydian mode. It can be done with any interval pattern, as the OP has already demonstrated.

Read Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. It's a much better resource - sorry, a very thorough and creative resource - for scales and improvisation concepts.

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  • Would tetrachord or n-chord be the term to refer to the non-fifth-repeating patterns? – awe lotta Jan 3 '20 at 13:41
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In addition to NickGroove's outstanding answer, this technique is used in jazz to "go out" (depart from the written chords) when improvising. Consider this pattern:

C-D-E-  F-G-A-  B♭-C-D-  E♭-F-G-  A♭-B♭-C- ...

When "going out," it's more common to hear a pattern move around the circle of 4ths than around the circle of 5ths. Sequencing a 3-note scalar pattern can achieve that. If we allow ourselves to use non-scale steps, then we can sequence more complex patterns. Here's a very common one (1-2-3-5):

C-D-E-G-  F-G-A-C-  B♭-C-D-F-  E♭-F-G-♭-  A♭-B♭-C-E♭ ...
[CMaj]    [FMaj]    [B♭Maj]    [E♭Maj]    [A♭Maj]

Jazz musicians apply the same technique to pentatonic scales, too. Consider this Cmin pentatonic pattern:

B♭-C-E♭-F-  E♭-F-G-B♭-  G-B♭-C-E♭-  C-E♭-F-G-  F-G-B♭-C

Now compare to this version, where we sequence around the circle of fourths:

B♭-C-E♭-F-  E♭-F-A♭-B♭-  A♭-B♭-D♭-E♭-  D♭-E♭-G♭-A♭- ...
[Cmin]     [Fmin]       [B♭min]      [E♭min]

Another very common variant is to combine ascending movement with descending movement:

C-D-E-G-   F-E-D-C-  B♭-C-D-F-  E♭-D-C-B♭-  A♭-B♭-C-E♭-  D♭-C-B♭-A♭...
[CMaj]     [FMaj]    [B♭Maj]    [E♭Maj]     [A♭Maj]     [D♭Maj]
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    "it's more common to hear a pattern move around the circle of 4ths than around the circle of 5ths" < Because the roots of a ii-V-I cadence are 4ths. – NickGrooves Jan 8 '20 at 14:23
  • Yes! That's a good point that's worth mentioning. I loved your answer--thinking about it as a circle of fifths sequence is really clever and such a good way to conceptualize it. – jdcode Jan 8 '20 at 19:10
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An interesting feature of Collier's Super...Scale is that there is a half-step between each segment. That is, the final pitch in one segment can serve as the leading tone to the next. That makes for very smooth harmonic shifts.

Compare that with some of the "circle of fourths" patterns presented by jdjazz. When the transition is upward (e.g., C-D-E-, F-G-A-, etc.), the connecting notes form a half step. But when the transitions are downward (e.g., C-D-E-G-, F-G-A-C, etc.) the connecting notes form whole steps.

It calls to mind the logic behind the melodic minor scale: leading tones are desirable when ascending, but less so when descending.

The feature isn't a necessity. One could build a "circle of fourths" variant of Collier's scale, in which the connecting notes form descending half steps:

C-D-E-F#-, F-G-A-B-, Bb-C-D-E, ...

But the harmonic transitions don't work as smoothly.

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If you go around the circle of 4ths starting with locrian you get loc, phry, aeol, dor, mix, ion, lyd. Then if you keep going you get the 5 hyper modes. (Modes that don't contain the root.) Personally I think it's just a scale that modulates through the hyper modes.

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    Would you expand this answer, and actually spell out what the hyper modes are? – Brian THOMAS Jul 23 '20 at 11:42
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I agree with Nick Grooves that Slonimsky's Thesaurus is a great source of information for this exact thing. Slonimsky called it the Disjunct Lydian Polytetrachord. It is disjunct because the Lydian tetrachord (starting in C) (C D E F#) then starts its tetrachord repeat (disjunctly) on the NEXT note of its (C) Lydian scale, which is G, (giving the G Lydian tetrachord of G A B C#), then repeats the tetrachord (disjunctly) starting on the next note of G Lydian, being D (giving D E F# G#) etc. etc. This is Jacob's SUHMM Lydian scale/sound. Slonimsky comments that counting repeated notes in different octaves, this type of scale may have as many as 48 functionally different notes. Conversely, a conjunct polytetrachord starts its new tetrachord ON the last note of the previous tetrachord, i.e. a Conjuct Major Polytetrachord is C D E F then repeat the major tetrachord from the F (giving F G A Bb) then repeat it from Bb etc. I do feel that the SUHMM is not a particularly new concept, and I would definitely recommend Slonimsky's Thesaurus for further study, however, if you want to hear it actually used in an absolutely beautiful and original way, then Jacob Collier is the man. I'm a massive admirer of this guy and think his compositions, arrangements and realisation of this kind of theory is one of the best things to happen in music in a long long time.

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