How To Play Diminished Arpeggios

Diminished arpeggios are an essential tool every jazz guitar player should have under his/her belt + they are relatively easy to play on the guitar because of their symmetric formation.

Read on to learn how to play diminished arpeggios on guitar and how to use them in a musical context.

How is a Diminished Chord Formed?

A diminished chord (and arpeggio) consists of 4 different notes that are each a minor third (=3 half tones) apart.

Here’s the chord formula: 1 b3 b5 bb7

Example: Bb°7 = Bb Db Fb G

(if chord formulas are Chinese to you, read our Chord Theory Tutorial)

 

3 interesting facts about diminished chords:

  • A diminished chord can be named after any of its 4 notes. The chord in the example above can be named Bb°7 or Db°7 or E°7 or G°7. These 4 chords consist of the same 4 notes.
  • How many diminished chords are there? The answer is 3:
    • C°7 = Eb°7 = Gb°7 = A°7
    • C#°7 = E°7 = G°7 = Bb°7
    • D°7 = F°7 = Ab°7 = B°7
  • Every diminished fingering pattern on the guitar neck produces the same arpeggio every time you move it 3 frets up or down. Here’s an example for Bb°7 (= Db°7 = E°7 = G°7):

Diminished arpeggio fingering pattern

 

How to Play Diminished Arpeggios

Like I said, remembering diminished arpeggio fingerings is relatively easy because you only have to remember 3 shapes:

1) This is the first diminished arpeggio fingering for Bb°7 = Db°7 = E°7 = G°7. You get the same arpeggio if you move this pattern 3 frets up or down, so you can start it on the 6th, the 9th, the 12th or the 3rd fret, while still playing the same diminished arpeggio.

 

Diminished arpeggio fingering 1

 

2) The second diminished arpeggio fingering for Bb°7 = Db°7 = E°7 = G°7. Same as above: move this pattern 3 frets up or down, start it on the 6th, the 9th, the 12th or the 3rd fret and you’ll still be playing the same 4 notes.

 

Diminished arpeggio fingering 2

 

3) This 2 notes/string fingering pattern is very symmetrical, except for the b-string of course. Also moveable by 3 frets…

 

Diminished arpeggio fingering 3

 

How to Use Diminished Arpeggios

The most obvious use of a diminished arpeggio is playing it against a diminished chord that has the same name. For example: playing a G°7 arpeggio over a G°7 chord.

What’s more interesting is that you can use diminished chords to play over dominant b9 chords. The notes of a diminished chord are identical to the notes of the dominant b9 chord that is a semitone lower.

For example: you can play Bb°7 (Bb Db E G) over A7b9 (A C# E G Bb). Have a look at the notes of both chords, starting the diminished chord on the Db (=C#) instead of the Bb:

A7b9: A C# E G Bb
Bb°7:   C# E G Bb

Besides the root of the dominant chord (A), the notes are indentical.

 

To play over a dominant chord, you can either play a:

1) Diminished chord that is a semitone higher than the root of the dominant chord. Example: over G7, play Ab°7

2) Diminished chord that starts on the 3 (or 5 or b7) of the dominant chord. Example: over G7, play B°7 (=Ab°7)

 

In the following example I play arpeggios over a 251 progression. Over the dominant chords, I only play diminished arpeggios and you’ll hear how natural that sounds.

 

How to play diminished arpeggios

 

Here’s a backing track for your practice:

 

Some words:

  • Bar 1: Fmaj7 arpeggio over Dm, sounds like Dm9.
  • Bar 2: Ab°7 arpeggio over G7. I use the 2-notes/string fingering, which is handy to change position on the guitar neck.
  • Bar 3: Em7 arpeggio over Cmaj7, sounds like Cmaj9.
  • Bar 4: Bb°7 arpeggio over A7.
  • Bar 5: Dm7 arpeggio.
  • Bar 6: Ab°7 arpgeggio over G7.
  • Bar 7: Cmaj7 arpeggio with a chromatic note at the en.
  • Bar 8: Am7 arpeggio over C major, which sounds like C6.

 

Learn much more about diminished chords in our Premium Lessons:

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  1. BrentDec 24, 2013 at 6:59 am

    Very valuable lesson. Jammed packed with things to really think through. I found a lot of mysteries solved here plus a vast space to work with… really worth putting in the time. Thanks Dirk.

    • Dirk LaukensDec 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

      You’re welcome Brent!

  2. Adam LongDec 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    This was a great lesson. It’ll take some time to get it under my belt. But thanks for the clear, concise info. Time to go practice.

  3. ALI GARCIADec 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Thank´s for this lesson Dirk, very useful.

    Saludos desde Mexico City!

    Ali

    • Dirk LaukensDec 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      You’re welcome Ali!

  4. Larry6stringDec 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Great lessons as always. Merry Christmas. Have a very prosperous 2014.

    • Dirk LaukensDec 25, 2013 at 12:57 am

      Merry Christmas and a musical 2014 Larry!
      Jazzguitar.be will be 10 years old in January!

  5. tiger955iDec 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Happy Christmas Dirk,

    Thanks for all the great lessons. Learning to play jazz guitar is a long journey, but you make every step worthwhile.

    cheers from Cornwall in England

    Rod

    • Dirk LaukensDec 25, 2013 at 12:55 am

      Thanks Rod!
      We went camping in Cornwall last year, but then it started raining, and raining… We’ll give it a go next year.
      Merry Christmas!

  6. Juanlu CastillaDec 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Very good.

    Thanks for your hard work

    • Dirk LaukensDec 25, 2013 at 12:53 am

      Your’re welcome Juanlu!
      Merry Christmas!

  7. Rick WinfieldDec 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    I’m coming from a rock/blues gendre trying to change my style into jazz improv.
    I’ve used Dim scales and arps, as well as b5′s, in between the chord changes,
    (mostly I-IV-V7) but this lesson greatly clarifies its uses, and open many doors for me.
    Thanks

  8. CaryDec 28, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Good lesson Dirk, thanks.

    “A diminished chord (and arpeggio) consists of 4 different notes that are each a minor third (=3 half tones aka tritone) apart.”

    I thought a tritone was defined as 3 whole tones ie 6 semitones.

    Thanks again for nice lesson.

    Cary

    • Matt WarnockDec 28, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Hey, just a small typo, all fixed up! Thanks, and enjoy the material.

  9. Denis YONDec 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Thank you, Dirk, for this very usefull lesson !
    Merci de Lille (North of France).
    Best wishes for the next new year !

    • Dirk LaukensDec 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      You’re welcome Denis, best wishes to you as well!

  10. jacob DareFeb 5, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    how can i dowload jazz guiter e book to my phone? just exactly the way i dowload dictionary.tell me procedure to follow now.

    • Matt WarnockFeb 6, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Hi Jacob, the book comes as a PDF as well, so if you have a PDF reader on your phone you can open it on there just fine.

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