Tonal Trends Pop Music Theory for Songwriters

Songwriting and Music Theory Vlog youtube-icon twitter-icon facebook guitarate guitar curriculum

Guitarist looking for something to play or teach? Visit our other site:

Get Updates:

Click Here for a List of the latest Songwriting and Music Theory Vlogs

"The Double Harmonic Major Scale in 'Misirlou'"

   Hi! And Welcome to the TonalTrends.com Spotter Spots Vlog.

   Today we’re going to talk about the ‘Double Harmonic Major Scale’ as heard in the opening riff to “Misirlou” by Dick Dale & The Del Tones.

   The Song starts with a no fuss presentation of the scale, shown here in the green colored scale degrees.

   And here’s what it sounds like!

   Cool, let me play it one more time, and I want you to pay special attention to these guys underlined in red, because they’re what we call “step and a halves,” or 1 ½ steps, or you can also refer to them as “augmented 2nds.” You can even refer to them as just “3 frets”, if you’re thinking in terms of a fretted instrument like this guitar. If that wasn’t enough, people also sometimes call these “steps and halves”, “tones and semitones” —so, then they’d call our interval “tone and a semi’s.” Just kidding—I just made that up, don’t listen to what I say. But, again, it sounds like this:

   Anyways, the fact that this scale has not one, but two, of these red underlined step-and-a-half intervals is the reason it’s called a “Double” Harmonic Major Scale.

   Okay real quick though, that’s just what most westerners call it; it’s also called “The Arabic scale, the Byzantine scale, the Spanish Gypsy scale, or even the “Hijaz Kar” which loosely means “Egyptian”…I think.

   Okay, the reason most western scale-enthusiasts trouble themselves to use the word ‘Major’ when describing this scale, is that it can be thought of as being a Major Scale with a b2 and a b6, seen here circled in blue.

   And that’s fine, but personally, I prefer to think of it in reference to, arguably, its closest cousin—the Freygish scale, AKA the “Phrygian Dominant Scale.”

   See, if you think of it from the Freygish scale’s point of view, you only have to change one of the notes, and that’s the 7th scale degree, which in Freygish is a more natural b7—so, if you raise the flatted 7th scale degree of the Freygish Scale—bam, you got the Double Harmonic.

   Which brings me to the other reason I wanted to bring up this close cousin of a scale: because the Trumpet and Piano actually switch to it in the next sections of the song!

   See these “b7” scale degrees, colored orange, here, here and here? Well, these are the tell tale signs that our melody has switched to Freygish!

   Here, I’ll show you what it sounds like…where’s my trumpet?

   Did you hear them? These Freygish b7s are also employed by the piano tinkles later; they sound like this:

   Okay, then the next logical question to pose is: why’d they switch to the Freygish scale in the first place? And I believe the answer is: they probably did it in order to avoid having 3 chromatic notes in a row—see, having 3 chromatic notes in a row is a parade of dissonance that can’t get any permits to march through the streets of civilized society!

   So like, if they’d kept the scale “Double Harmonic” for the Trumpet part here, it would go “F-E-Eb” or b2-1-(major)7.

   Here’s what that would sound like on the trumpet!

  So yeah, as you can hear, pretty funky—probably a good idea they switched it.

   Also, just for kicks, here’s what the piano tinklies would sound like without the flatted 7th.

   Fascinating, I know! Last, I just want to mention that this little correction of a dissonance parade is also endemic to the Melodic Minor Scale, and how that scale changes notes to avoid unpleasantness —but that’s a whole other blog, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

   Okay before we go, I want to tell you about a couple more places to find this crazy “Double Harmonic” scale, in case you’re interested:

   1) The Rock Band called “Rainbow” used it in their song “Gates of Babylon.”

   2) Classical composer Claude Debussy used the scale in several songs, such as his "Sérénade Interrompue."

   3) Jazz great Miles Davis used the scale in his song “Nardis.”

   Okay well yeah! I hope you enjoyed this “Spotter Spots” vlog from TonalTrends.com! And we’ll see you next time!

Sponsor