The double harmonic scales

The double harmonic scale can be represented by the following notes c, dflat, e, f, g, aflat, b.

This is the only prime scale that is not proper, and with three types of second (major, minor and augmented) it is a melodically rough scale.

The augmented seconds certainly give the scale a North African or Middle Eastern flavour, and make it quite unsuitable for common practice classical, where the augmented second is considered to be unmelodic.

In the scale above there are two triads which are able to function as tonics: C major and f minor. This gives us two tonally effective modes derived from this prime scale: the double harmonic major and the double harmonic minor.

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The double harmonic major scale

The double harmonic major scale and its triads are represented numerically as:

1 flat2 3 4 5 flat6 7 Notes
I flatII iii iv V(flat5) flatVI+ flatII7 Chords

So if the tonic is c, the scale will consist of the following notes and triads:

c dflat e f g aflat b Hear these notes
C Dflat e f G(flat5) Aflat+ Dflat7 Hear these chords

This scale is usually found as a temporary alteration of the standard major scale. But it can be sustained at length because it supports a strong tonic function on the I triad.

The melodic deficiencies, and the difficulty of simultaneously avoiding parallel fifths and augmented intervals make this scale difficult to use in a manner consistent with common practice classical. But outside of this stylistic convention it can provide some quite extravagant harmonic progressions and is a fertile source of inspiration.

With two augmented seconds - between flat2 and 3 and between flat6 and 7 - this scale has a somewhat non-western sound to it. Augmented seconds are common in the musics of North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, though they were considered unmelodic in common practice classical music.

This scale provides us with the strange, but effective, cadence of iii - flatII - I.

It also provides the much more common flatIIaug6 - I, whose penult is described in classical theory texts as the German, French or Italian Sixth chord, and in jazz theory texts as the Altered Dominant. In both classical and jazz, this cadence is frequently used as a secondary cadence, resolving to IV or V in the scale (i.e. flatVaug6 - IV, and flatVIaug6 - V).

In the following piece of music I have started off sweetly in the c major scale, before veering off into the darker regions of the c double harmonic major scale. The music ends with the cadence G7(flat5) - Dflat - C.

Descent (midi).

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The double harmonic minor scale

The double harmonic minor scale and its triads are represented numerically as:

1 2 flat3 sharp4 5 flat6 7 Notes
i II(flat5) flatIII+ flatVI7 V flatVI vii Chords

If the tonic is c, the scale will conist of the following notes and triads:

c d eflat fsharp g aflat b Hear these notes
c D(flat5) Eflat+ Aflat7 G Aflat b Hear these chords

This scale provides the unique cadence of flatVI - vii - i.

Of all the scales I have examined on this site this is perhaps the strangest and certainly the most obscure. The tonic function of its i triad is very weak and it is easily displaced by its relative double harmonic major scale. It can only be maintained with careful compositional aforethought.

This along with its melodic deficiencies make it an extremely rare occurrence. This alone should give the curious composer enough reason to use it now !