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Faux Scales - Composing With The Intervals

"This is not even a scale", "you are supposed to use seven tones", or "this doesn't fit with the Diatonic theory" are typical phrases from other composers that you'll hear if you get into the world of Faux Scales!

In this article, we'll get not only into the definition of Faux Scales but also show the application and a musical demonstration that'll help you implement these wonderful Interval Theory-concepts into your compositions.

Faux means 'wrong', and Faux Scales describe a sequence of tones that don't match with any of the scales defined in the Diatonic system. At first, this all seems to be senseless and even impractical, but they can be very precious and inspiring if the composer knows how and when to use them.

Why Faux Scales?

Before we go into the application, let's have a look at some Faux Scales so that you know what this is all about. It's important to understand that there are (literally) a thousand ways how we can construct those tone sequences and, therefore, we want to go into a bunch of concrete examples first.

Please take any of the following examples as inspiration to create some Faux Scales on your own. But since there are so many options available, how do you make a decision?

Academy members know that intervals have their own nature to them! According to where and when they appear in the Harmonic series, they evoke specific emotions and gravitate to particular musical places. That is all discussed in detail in the "TNO-series" of the Composition Course!

Knowing about the nature of the intervals already answers the following potential question: Why would you even think about creating and using such scales in composition? - Because sometimes, the Diatonic set of colors (especially the seven Church Modes) doesn't match with the emotion that a composer wants to make the audience feel.

Imagine a painter who is in love with the color blue. He will spend hours on creating as many different gradations and variations of blue as possible. And for what reason? - Because this opens up the opportunity to express his emotions in greater detail based on his taste and uniqueness!

The same is true for composers in the field of music. Think about YOUR palette and taste, as this will become the reason why people hire YOU over somebody else!

And even if you don't know what your taste is (yet), please continue reading and listen to the musical demonstrations. They will inspire and maybe also help you to find out what kind of composer YOU are!

Examples of Faux Scales

We are going to look into three different ways how to construct a Faux Scale. Of course, there are a thousand other ways how one can build such scales, but the following examples give you some solid and practical starting points and even better, they are easy to turn into action!

1) Modifying an existing scale

This one is simple. Alter one (or more) steps of a scale you know and listen to how that sounds to you. But how do you know whether or not a scale has turned into a Faux Scale already? Let's look at an example below. We've picked the Lydian mode first and altered scale tone 6 into -6.

That's a Faux Scale! And here's why: No scale in the Diatonic system shows a half-step followed by another half-step (other than the Chromatic scale, of course). Usually, this doesn't sound natural to our ears. The scales used in our Western culture isolate the "1s" (half-steps) and surround them with bigger intervals, like 2s or even a 3-interval.

The moment you play two "1"s after another ("1 + 1") indicates that you've left the Church Modes and created a Faux Scale.

2) Combining Scale Fragments over different Roots

This one sounds complicated in theory, but it's quite simple, and the chances are that you've come across this concept already without even knowing. The most famous example is Jacob Collier's "Super-Ultra-Hyper-Mega-Meta -Lydian" scale. Guess what? It's a Faux Scale!

It simply uses the first four steps of the Lydian scale and then, changes the root in the clockwise direction on the Circle of Fifths. By changing the root in this manner, the sound tends to get brighter and brighter over time!

And here is what this sequence of tones sounds like when we extend it to the full range.

We can even reflect the whole line and create the "darkest" sequence of tones possible!

Again, there are endless options to use this particular concept as you can change the variables easily. In particular, those variables are ...

  1. The overall scale
  2. The number of scale tones involved
  3. The root cycles (or progression)

Well, you could even increase the complexity by alternating between two or more scales over your root progression. Well, I'm not recommending you do that as your audience (probably) will be overwhelmed anyway, but it's an option. And once you start seeing the elements that make up this Faux Scale, you can play around with them and create new sounds and textures.

3) Extensions of Interval Combinations (ICs)

Another fantastic way how to create Faux Scales is by using repetitions of interval combinations (ICs). Not only can you create those scales very quickly, but your audience will be able to follow those patterns easily.

One of the best illustrations of that concept is actually not a Faux Scale, and I'm referring to the Octatonic scale.

The pattern used in the Octatonic scale is a "1+2" (a half-step followed by a whole-step). If we stuck to that concept but changed the intervals involved, we open the doors for many fantastic opportunities to create Faux Scales! Here are some quick examples of what these scales might look like.

This one sounds great and a bit exotic at the same time, that's because the "3" (a minor third) shows up in the sequence. This interval is not present in any of the Church Modes and, therefore, sticks out a little bit in our Western culture. By the way, did you realize that it contains only six different scale tones?

Here's even the reflected pendant to "1+3", which is "3+1".

One can hear the emotional connection between "1+3" and "3+1" easily as those ICs are reflections of one and another, like brother and sister. It's almost like they are interchangeable and share the same emotion. Guess what? - Welcome to Interval Theory! This is all designed to give you an emotional understanding of how the intervals work together so that you can apply that knowledge to your musical storytelling later.

You can even extend your IC to three tones!

You can go wild with this concept as long as you remember your initial IC. You want to shape your initial IC so that it creates an emotional context that serves the composition and the musical story well. That's why our Academy's Composition Course deals a lot with "The Nature of the Intervals". You will develop practical knowledge about the intervals that will lead you to fresh ideas, avoid writer's block, and increase your efficiency!

We invite you to learn more about the Composition Course and listen to examples from our CITs (composers in training).

Musical Demonstration of a Faux Scale

Ok, now we enter the fun part of this article! First, let's define a Faux Scale that we want to use in our composition later. We are going to combine options 2 and 3 from above. Let's pick the IC "1+3+1" and let it first start on a C root tone and then on a G root tone.

This will give us some interesting notes to play with and ensures that we can still use cadences and chords next to it. We end up with a seven-tone-scale, and it admittedly sounds nice! Some people might refer to it as the "Double Harmonic" scale or "Gypsie Major" or something similar, but to be honest, it doesn't matter.

In the Diatonic theory, this scale is undefined as it contains two half-steps in a row (scale tones 7 to 1 to -2).

Marc Bercovitz, a graduate from the Composition Course, was so kind to chime in and write a piece that is based mainly on this Faux Scale. In addition to that, he used the "1+3" and "3+1"-ICs as decoupled structures to come up with some related musical material.

In the video below, Frank talks you through the sketch and how Marc used the Faux Scale from above.

Now you start seeing (and hearing) how beneficial and freeing Faux Scales can be. From a Diatonic standpoint, it would have been almost impossible to explain the piece without running into one exception after another. But when switching the point of view to Interval Theory, all the connections start to reveal themselves quite effortlessly.

Many thanks to Marc for providing this beautiful and inspiring piece of music.


Faux Scales don't fall into the standard set of tools for composers, but as you can see, they provide freedom and a lot of inspiration. And in the end, it's those small nuances and details that separate the boys from the men! 

That's what our Academy focuses on! We help you develop your unique voice based on your taste. It's all about getting to the point where you can express yourself freely. That's what will give you satisfaction and your client an excellent reason to hire YOU over somebody else!

As usual, here's a quick list of the main takeaways from this article!

  • Faux Scales provide emotional freedom IF you know how to use them
  • No conventional scale used in Diatonic theory contains two half-steps in a row
  • We've explained 3 different ways how you can create a Faux Scale: By alteration of an existing scale, by combining scale fragments over different root tones, and by extending ICs


I encourage you not to shy away from diving into Faux Scales. At first, it might look complicated and overwhelming because you purposely leave the Diatonic system. But when you look closer, you'll realize that they are a unique and robust element in musical storytelling. You can (and should) base your choice of ICs and the final Faux Scales on your emotional reaction. Spend a bit of time evaluating some of the options explained in this article and write a piece of music using on your own. You'll be surprised about what new musical territories will open up to you!

Frank Herrlinger

Co-founder and instructor at Music Interval Theory Academy