If you’re curious about dissonant guitar scales and how to play them, this post is for you!
Before We Begin…
You’ll first need to know that, technically, there’s no such thing as a dissonant scale. Dissonance refers to two or more notes that sound off. So pretty much any scale can do that.
Additionally, what’s dissonant in one context can also sound great in other. If you play a simple semitone interval on its own, it may sound awful. But if you use it in a certain chord, like add9 chords, it will sound appealing to most. So the beauty is in the ear of the listener, so to speak.
Nonetheless, there are some scales to which people tend to refer to as dissonant. For the most part, these are scales that you rarely hear in modern music. And they’re really hard to put within that context.
In this guide, I’ll share a few of those. You’ll also see tabs for every example. These will be in the 5th position, all with A as the root note.
The diminished scale is the simplest example. It alternates between whole and half steps. However, there are two variants. One of them starts with a whole step and the other one starts with a half step.
But you can play both of them in the same settings. You can use them over diminished chords. In some cases, you can also use them for pieces that are in Phrygian dominant, but not with the same root note.
Anyway, here’s the first variant:
And this is what the second one looks like:
You won’t often stumble upon the Hirajōshi scale. This is technically a pentatonic scale since it has only five notes. But it’s nowhere near the pentatonic minor that we are used to. It’s a traditional Japanese scale that sounds a bit weird.
Aside from the root note we have a minor second, perfect fourth, diminished fifth, and minor seventh intervals. Here’s how it goes:
If you’re interested in something a bit awkward-sounding, check out the whole-tone scale. The entire scale consists of whole notes. Let’s present all the degrees numerically and create the scale from the natural major. It goes like this:
As you can see, it only has six degrees. Fourth, fifth, and sixth degrees are augmented. You can also write the last degree as the minor seventh and just omit the sixth. But it’s practically the same thing. Some people also refer to it as a six-tone equal temperament.
It’s a weird one to learn. And it’s hard to implement it in practice. You can use it over augmented chords. Or you can just write a whole passage or a riff in this scale. Here’s the tab:
Now, Locrian is the natural major scale mode that everyone seems to avoid. In fact, there’s hardly any song that uses it. The only kind of famous example is Bjork’s “Army of Me.” Here’s a video giving more details on the song.
Now, what’s weird about the Locrian mode is that it doesn’t resolve anywhere. The seventh chord that it builds is a semi-diminished one. It sounds kind of tense but also kind of resolved at the same time. I could say the same thing about the entire scale.
The reason behind this is the distribution of intervals. This is the numerical representation of the scale:
Flat second and diminished fifth intervals kind of make it sound tense. The minor third and the minor sixth add some melancholy to it. However, if you combine these with the minor seventh interval, it just gets nowhere.
But that just might be the thing that you’re looking for. It’s that eerie feeling of suspense that doesn’t end. Sure, I might have given the most attention to the least desirable scale here. But you can use this one in songwriting. Here’s the tab for it:
Super Locrian bb7
An interesting twist on the Locrian scale is the super Locrian double-flat seventh. The scale is as weird as its name suggests. But once you’ve got a hang of Locrian, you can just alter two notes and get the super Locrian bb7. Here’s what this scale looks like:
As you can see, all you have to do is diminish fourth and minor seventh intervals. Meaning that you just lower them by an additional semitone. Some may feel confused by the use of two flats on the seventh interval. Shouldn’t it be a natural sixth? Well, technically, it’s the seventh interval, and you have to have two flats. Yeah, music theory is weird.
It’s also hard to implement this scale in practice, at least in conventional music. It builds a diminished chord, so you can play it over one. Other than that, it’s a great way for you to experiment. Try and write some riffs in it and see if you can make a song out of it. Here’s the tab for this one:
Maybe it’s not as dark and weird as the rest of the scales on the list. However, Dorian with an augmented fourth interval is the easiest way to get into these weird scales. After all, it’s pretty much a Dorian mode with the fourth interval raised by a semitone.
However, this one supposedly minor change makes a world of difference. What you should know is that this is, in fact, a mode of a harmonic minor scale. And thus, it comes with that one-and-a-half-step interval. Here’s the scale:
When you omit a natural fourth interval, you also get more tension. It’s not super dissonant. With the major sixth interval, it adds a slightly brighter note. But it’s easy to implement instead of the minor blues scale. And you can add some tension to a lot of your favorite songs. Here’s the tab of Dorian #4:
Dissonant Guitar Scales: Conclusion
I hope this article has given you some dissonant guitar scales to experiment with.
And if you want to read more about music theory on this blog, check out:
Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!