Some Double Harmonic Chords and "Boxes"

The Double Harmonic scale can be thought of as a major scale with flattened second and sixth notes. Whereas Harmonic Minor contains the distinctive sequence semitone-minor third-semitone, Harmonic Major is made from two copies of the same sequence. Hence, I presume, "double" harmonic.

The thing everybody knows about this scale (if they know anything at all) is that it's the basis of the song "Misirlou", made famous by the great Dick Dale:

This combination of notes seems to have been independently discovered by several musical traditions, or perhaps it was passed along trade routes in antiquity; either way, people have known for a long time that it sounds cool.

I recently decided to explore some chords in this scale. One distinctive feature is that it contains two major seventh chords, one at the root and one on the flattened second; playing, say, C Maj 7 and Db Maj 7 is enough to cover all the notes of the scale. You can also play the Db as a dominant chord, which gives you what Wikipedia calls a "built-in tritone substitution". This is a cute idea but I don't see it being very useful. I like the alternation of the major sevenths, the general idea being that slipping up a semitone on a major chord is a "Double Harmonic sound". This is easy to remember and play, and pretty easy to get into your ears. I've mentioned it plenty of times before on this blog.

Another very interesting feature of the scale (but maybe only for me) is the minor-major 7 chord built on the 4. That would be FmM7 over CM7. It's an odd sound because it contains the b13 (suggestive of Harmonic Major) and the 11 (an "avoid note" in the jazz textbooks, which I tend to mentally translate as "interesting note"). These sounds are both deep in my melodic vocabulary. But also, recently I've been playing minor-major 7 arpeggios around the Coltrane cycle, and these sound good to me combined with major 7 chords a semitone below. All three possibilities (FmM7, DbmM7 and AbmM7 over CM7) are within the Double Harmonic and together they cover it completely.

All this is fine but we're still in the realm of plain old seventh chords; I'm really looking for something more spicy and distinctive. As I often do I just drew all the notes in the scale on a big fingerboard diagram, then worked out some ways to colour-code them. Here's the one I'm using for now (NB this is A Double Harmonic, not C):

To practice it I pick a string set and play it up and down the neck, each chord being made by combining notes of the same colour on the chosen strings. The chords are approximately, but not exactly, stacks of fourths.

But I noticed something else, which is mostly why I'm posting this. You can also play melodies using two notes per string from adjacent chords. For example, in the diagram above I could start at the fifth fret and play all the yellow and dark blue notes. This looks like a scale or arpeggio but it isn't exactly either of those: the notes are A-Bb-D-E-G#-A-C#-D-E-F-A-Bb, so although it contains all the notes of the Double Harmonic scale, different combinations of them appear in different octaves.

Because these shapes arise entirely from the geometry of the guitar I'm just calling them "boxes" for now. Try running them up and down and you might be surprised how interesting they sound compared with running the scale straight. There's something unexpected about the way they take the scale and "explode" it across a couple of octaves that really caught my ear. If nothing else, it's another good way to practice these patterns.

One last thing I noticed while messing about. Since Double Harmonic contains large intervals (minor thirds) we can expect its hypermodes to be interesting -- those ways of playing it that don't contain the root of the underlying harmony. I've been enjoying shifting it down a whole tone on a major seventh chord; I might have more to say about this in due course.