Diminished Scales | Jazz Guitar Lesson with Diagrams & Licks
What's The Diminished Scale?
The diminished scale is one of the most used symmetric scale in jazz music. It is an eight-note scale (octatonic) built by alternating whole and half steps. There are two modes depending on whether we start to play with the whole tone, in this case we will call it " fully diminished scale ", or with the half-tone, called " dominant diminished scale ". These modes are based on an equal division of the octave into four (minor thirds divisions). They are often confused yet it is very simple, one must be played over diminished seventh chords (dim7) and the other one over dominant seventh chords (7th).
What Are The Two Modes of The Diminished Scale?
- The whole-half diminished scale also named "inverted diminished scale" is constructed using a repeat pattern of whole and half steps. It is used to play over dim7 chords.
- The half-whole diminished scale (the diminished scale) is constructed by repeating a pattern of half and whole steps. It must be played over dominant 7 chords (7b9).
The whole half diminished scale
What is The Whole-Half Diminished Scale?
The whole half diminished scale is an eight-tone scale, built by alternating whole steps and half steps, hence its name. It is used over diminished seventh chords (dim7). Because of its symmetry there are only three scales, C diminished scale, Db diminished scale and D diminished scale. In other words, C, Eb, Gb and A diminished scales contain the same notes. Db, E, G and Bb diminished scales are made up of the same notes. D , F, Ab and B diminished scales are also related.
|C diminished scale||C||D||Eb||F||Gb||Ab||A||B|
|Db diminished scale||Db||Eb||E||F#||G||A||Bb||B|
|D diminished scale||D||E||F||G||Ab||Bb||B||C#|
|Formula||1||9 (2)||b3||11 (4)||b5||#5||13 (6)||7|
Whole-Half Diminished Scale Guitar Diagrams | One Octave Shapes
Here are four guitar fretboard diagrams representing the whole half diminished scale on the guitar neck. If it is the first time that you play this scale, it's important to start with the root note "1" the orange note in the diagrams. You can play the corresponding chord, a diminished 7th chord before or after playing this scale, this is a good way to hear it. Once you have memorized all the fingerings you have to transpose them by moving the root on the desired note keeping the same intervals. As has been mentioned previously, you can move any diminished scale position up or down three frets and you will still find the same notes, this is the principle of symmetric scales.
Whole-half diminished scale guitar diagram 1
Whole-half diminished scale guitar diagram 2
Whole-half diminished scale guitar diagram 3
Whole-half diminished scale guitar diagram 4
Whole-Half Diminished Scale Guitar Diagrams | Two-Octave Shapes
Here are two other diagrams about the two-octave diminished scale. For example, to play a A diminished scale using the first diagram, you have to put your first finger on the sixth string at the fifth fret.
Once you have memorized these fingerings you can try to create your own patterns. Here are some suggestions :
With minor third intervals : 1 - b3 - 11 - b3 - b5 - 11 - #5 - b5 -13 #5 - 7 - 13 - 1 and the opposite. Then, try the same with other intervals: fourth, fifth, sixth...
The most interesting and obvious concept that you can use when you want to improvise over diminished seventh chords is to play diminished seventh arpeggios. When we build arpeggios from the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of each diminished scale we obtain four Dim7 arpeggios. These arpeggios are made up of root, minor third, flat fifth and diminished seventh.
A diminished scale produces these arpeggios :
- A diminished seventh (Adim7) : A - C - Eb - Gb
- C diminished seventh (Cdim7) : C - Eb - Gb - A
- Eb diminished seventh (Ebdim7) : Eb - Gb - A - C
- Gb diminished seventh (Gbdim7) : Gb - A - C - Eb
The half-whole diminished scale (dominant diminished scale)
What's The Half-Whole Diminished Scale?
The half-whole diminished scale or dominant diminished scale is symmetric. As its name implies, it is built by alternating half-steps and whole-steps. It is simply the opposite of the diminished scale (whole half) referred before in this web page. This scale is widely used by jazz musicians to solo over dominant 7th chords, particularly 7b9 chords. It can bring interesting tensions in your playing by highlighting the b9, #9 and #11. It sounds great on the V of a major or minor II-V-I progression or the VIb9 of a I-VI-II-V progression that can be found into rhythm changes or jazz-blues tunes.
Here are the three main scales :
|C dominant diminished scale||C||Db||Eb||E||F#||G||A||Bb|
|C# dominant diminished scale||C#||D||E||F||G||Ab||Bb||B|
|D dominant diminished scale||D||Eb||F||Gb||Ab||A||B||C|
|Formula||1||b9||#9||3||#11 or b5||5||13 (6)||b7|
The C dominant diminished scale is made up of the same notes as the Eb, F# and A dominant diminished scales, as the C# contains the same notes as E, G and Bb. The D dominant diminished scale has the same notes as the F, Ab and B half-whole scale. That's the symmetry.
To understand the symmetry, it is interesting to compare the two modes of the diminished scale:
|C diminished scale||C||Db||Eb||E||F#||G||A||Bb|
|Db dominant diminished scale||Db||Eb||E||F#||G||A||Bb||C|
H = Half step - W = whole step
As it is shown in the previous chart, these two modes have the same notes.
Diminished seventh arpeggio lick
This lick shows you how to play a B diminished 7th arpeggio over a I-bIIdim7-II-V chord progression.
- Bar one : It is simply a major triad (B-D-F) over Bb major seventh.
- Bar two : B diminished seventh arpeggio (B-D-F-G#) over Bdim7.
- Bar three : C Dorian mode ( C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb) over Cmin7.
- Bar four : F Dominant bebop scale (F-G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb) over F7.
Half whole diminished scale guitar diagrams | One octave
Here are the four main one-octave half whole scale guitar diagrams. The root note "1", the orange note, is the most important note of a scale. This is the main note that a scale is built from. Each scale has a root, when you learn scales it is very important to locate the root note. Once you have learned and memorized these guitar positions, try to transpose them in twelve keys by moving the root up or down keeping the same intervals. You can also create your jazz lines using patterns as it is explained before in this lesson.
As you can see in the diagrams the dominant diminished scale is built with a root (1), flat ninth (b9), raised ninth (#9), major third (3), flat fifth (b5) that can also be considered as raised eleventh (#11), perfect fifth, thirteenth (13) or sixth, minor seventh (b7). There are eight notes in it which made it an octatonic scale.
Let's take an example in the key of G, to play the G dominant diminished scale using the first guitar position you must put your first finger on the sixth string at the third fret. With the second diagram you have to start with your first finger on the fifth string at the tenth fret. Third diagram, first finger on the fourth string at the fifth fret. Fourth position, first finger on the twelve fret.
Half-whole diminished scale guitar diagram 1
Half-whole diminished scale guitar diagram 2
Half-whole diminished scale guitar diagram 3
Half-whole diminished scale guitar diagram 4
Half-whole diminished scale guitar diagrams | Two octaves
Here are the two other guitar diagrams that runs out two octaves in position to play this diminished mode on the fretboard.
You can also play the corresponding chord namely 7b9. This is an effective way to relate scales and chords.
Diminished seventh (dim7) arpeggios are related to the dominant diminished scale as it is explained in the whole half diminished scale section. Let's take an example, C half whole diminished scale is C - Db - Eb - E - F# - G - A - Bb and produce these four diminished seventh arpeggios that contains the same four notes :
- C diminished seventh (Adim7) : C - Eb - F# - A
- Eb diminished seventh (Cdim7) : Eb - F# - A - C
- A diminished seventh (Ebdim7) : A - C - Eb - F#
- F# diminished seventh (Gbdim7) : F# - A - C - Eb
Indeed, you can incorporate arpeggios in your improvisation instead of playing basically this scale, it will be much more musical.
Half whole diminished 7th lick and diminished 7th arpeggio
As you can see in the example below, the obvious way is to play the G half whole diminished scale over G7b9 .
Minor II-V-I lick
Here is a minor II-V-I lick including a B diminished 7th arpeggio over G7b9.
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Last edited: 01/04/2019