Harmonic Minor Modes: The Augmented Scale

We've been examining the modes of the Harmonic Minor scale over the past few days, and we've come to the Augmented scale, which is just the same as the Major scale but with a sharpened fifth. It doesn't sound too exciting at first, but we'll look at some of the arpeggios it contains that can yield some interesting results.

For easy reference here are the CAGED fingerings exactly as they appear in the Encyclopoedia (white circles are triad arpeggio notes, and in particular white circles with black dots are roots):

Since the Major scale works most obviously over a major seventh harmony, that's also the most obvious application for the Augmented scale. Here's a simple pattern for the scale in the key of A at the fifth fret that ends by descending on a major 7 #5 arpeggio:


Of course, this scale also works well over augmented triads, but watch out for the function of the chord. If it's playing a dominant type of function, you might be better off with the Whole Tone scale. That's quite common in older tunes, like standards. If the augmented chord is a point of resolution, or a static harmony, as we sometimes find in modern jazz compositions, then the Augmented scale works will because of its major seventh:


We've been looking at arpeggios that the scales in this group contains; in this case it won't be much surprise to learn that the augmented triad falls on the root, and so isn't very interesting. The dominant arpeggio, though, falls on the major third this time, giving a very Coltraney superimposition that sounds great


We can pick out some more arpeggios from the scale analysis in the Encyclopoedia to expand these ideas a bit further. There we can see that the scale contains a minor triad rooted on the 2 and a fully diminished chord rooted on the #5; these share some notes in common, so we can have some fun with them while still staying within the scale:


Even this unpromising scale, then, has some nice features that you might want to explore. Remember that playing the scale up and down is just the first step in learning it, and a lot of scale sound best when you mix the notes up in this sort of way. They can even just act as inspiraiton for a simpler idea, such as some of the arpeggio superimpositions we've seen in this lesson. You might just want to start using one or two of those without worry about "the Augmented scale" at all, although if you know its CAGED fingerings they will help you find the arpeggios more quickly and naturally.