Minor 6 Suvarnangi secrets

I recently went through an exercise of writing a lot of tunes using Suvarnangi or, more accurately, a mode of Suvarnangi. This scale seems very lumpy and dissonant when you just run it up and down so here I'll break down how I think of it and some of the secrets it contains. Because as with any seven-note scale, what seems like nothing much turns out to contain a whole universe when we stick it under the microscope.

Note that I'll be discussing a mode of Suvarnangi here that isn't part of the melakata system; I don't have a good name for it. In the book it's got a very cumbersome name. I'm going to call it "Suvarnangi Minor 6" here. It's a very rare scale so let's build it up from a more familiar foundation.

The Minor 6 Penatonic

To think about it, start with the Minor 6 pentatonic, which is somewhat well-known among guitarists. It's the same as regular old minor pentatonic but with the b7 moved down a semitone to the 6, making it pretty easy to learn:

Here's Federico Memme introducing this scale for blues players, which all guitarists are at some level:

And then here's Jens Larson talking about it in a traditional jazz context:

A way to think about this scale that people don't always think of is that it's nothing but a combination of the minor triad at the root with the major triad a fourth above it (for example, C minor and F major). Thinking this way might lead you to construct different lines from this scale besides the bluesy ones in the examples above.

The Spicy Notes

To turn a pentatonic into a heptatonic we need to add a couple of notes. Your first thought might be that Minor 6 Pentatonic is clearly a subset of Dorian, with the characteristic combination of minor third with major sixth. To make Dorian, add the 2 and the b7:

But while Dorian will always have a place in our hearts, these are frankly the two move bland and basic notes we could choose. So what are the spiciest? There are a few contenders but this post is about adding the b2 and the b5 to produce the scale I'm calling, for now, Minor 6 Suvarnangi:

It's probably easiest to learn this by starting with the b5, since adding that to a normal minor pentatonic is another move that's probably familiar to you under the (pretty awful) name "the blues scale". If you're already aware of the move of adding b5 in that context, doing the same with Minor 6 pentatonic shouldn't be a big jump. And finding the b2 is easy: it's right there, one fret above the root.

That's Minor 6 Suvarnangi, the scale I wrote 96 tunes with in a month. Running it up and down is still a bit unrewarding but playing it as the "core" pentatonic with two "accent" notes is one way to get started with it.

Some Pentatonic Secrets

The Western musical tradition from about 1600 to 1900 was built almost entirely from the major scale and its modes (but really only one of them to any extent, the natural minor scale). Yes, a couple of others make appearances but centuries of music and countless melodies and harmonies sprang from that one seven-note scale. But the Arabic and Indian traditions have taught us that many other seven-note scales can also contain their own vast universes. What about Minor 6 Suvarnangi? What else is in it besides "minor 6 pentatonic with some sour notes"?

Here are a few things I've discovered but many more are left; in fact, all of these are pentatonic subsets of Minor 6 Suvarnangi that I think are particularly interesting. I'll describe all of this relative to the root C for convenience.

One thing that's clear is that we have C diminished as well as Cm6. We could think of this as Cm6#11:

But going up a minor third, we have a mode of this that I think is even more interesting: Eb simultaneously-half-and-fully-diminished, or what I call "three quarter diminished" in the book:

This is a great melodic sound with big, striking, unexpected intervals. This is Forte's set class 5-31 and in studies of Bartok's music it's referred to as the Beta chord, although I don't know Bartok's harmony well enough to say whether he used this form of it. It's also a subset of the half-whole diminished scale so you can think of it as a portal to that world if you want to.

There's another half diminished sound at the b5, this time with a different twist: Gbm7b5b9:

Another rare and very distinctive pentatonic sound is found at the b5, Gb, where we have Gb "minor major seven b9", an awkward cluster of semitones rattling around in an offset augmented triad:

I'll end with one of my favourite pentatonic scales, which appears a semitone above the root at Db: the major 7 chord with both the raised and lowered 5:

This is the scale I called Alp in a previous adventure among exotic pentatonics that you might get a kick out of if you like this sort of thing.

To finish, here's a way to play through the hexatonic subsets -- I did this diagram for A Minor 6 Suvarnangi so excuse the inconsistency:

Some of the labels on this diagram need an explanation, which will take a while to get to; I have a lot of backed-up ideas that need to be turned into blog posts and I'm only just getting round to that process. Of course, all this is just some of the stuff in this scale, and if they're not useful to you, you don't need observations like the ones in this post to make essentially unlimited music from it.