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The Diminished Scale for Guitar


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Dim7 chords are not as commonly used as m7, 7th and maj7 chords in jazz standards, but when they do pop up, then have a tendency to handcuff beginning improvisers. This lesson will introduce you to the diminished scale, which will allow you to confidently and musically solo over Dim7 chords the next time you encounter one in a jazz tune.

Part of the symmetrical family of scales, the diminished scale is built by alternating whole steps and half steps, the symmetrical side of the scale, and is used to solo over Dim7 and DimMaj7 chords.

This lesson will explain how to build, play, and solo with the diminished scale, as well as provide you with practice patterns, arpeggio patterns, and sample licks to help take your Dim7 soloing phrases to the next level.

 

What Is The Diminished Scale?

The diminished scale is an eight-note scale that is built by picking a tonic note, and then alternating whole steps and half steps from that starting note. Because of that it is also commonly referred to as the whole-half diminished scale.

To help you visualize how the diminished scale is constructed, here is a chart that lays out the interval structure for this scale, as well as showing how the whole (W) and half (H) steps are used to create the eight-note scale.

 

The Diminished Scale 1 9 b3 11 b5 #5 13 7 1
      W       H         W          H          W         H         W       H

 

 

As was mentioned earlier, the diminished scale is used to solo over Dim7 chords, as well as the rare DimMaj7 chord.

This is different from the dominant diminished scale, which alternates half and whole steps and is used to solo over 7b9 chords. When first exploring diminished scales on guitar, it is easy to confuse the two scales in your studies. To help keep these two scales separate in your head, and on the fretboard, here is a quick way to think of each scale:

  • 7b9 diminished = half-whole
  • Dim7 diminished = whole-half

 

Diminished Scale Fingerings

To begin your study of diminished scale fingerings, here is a two-octave shape from the 6th string that stays in position, which means that there is no shifting up or down the neck as you play this scale on the guitar.

This scale is written from the root note G, and so it is called a G diminished scale. Once you can play this fingering, or any fingering in this lesson, in the given key, make sure to move it to other keys.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 1

 

You can also play an in-position C diminished scale from the 5th-string root note, which you can see and hear in the following example.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 2

 

Moving on, here is a G diminished scale from the 6th string that shifts up the neck, which is an effective fingering for moving between positions on the guitar in your soloing lines and phrases.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 3

 

The final fingering in this lesson is a C diminished scale from the 5th string that shifts up the fingerboard.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 4

 

Once you can play one, or all, of these diminished scale fingerings, put on a Dim7 backing track and begin to solo over that chord using the fingerings from this lesson. As well as learning to play these scales on the guitar, it is also important to take these shapes to the improvisational side of your studies to prepare yourself for applying them to jazz tunes and progressions.

 

Diminished Scale Practice Patterns

When learning how to play the diminished scale on guitar, or any scale for that matter, you can learn various fingerings, which are helpful, but you can also take your studies further by working on different patterns over these fingerings.

In this section of the lesson, you will learn how to play four variations of a common jazz scale pattern, diatonic thirds, applied to the G diminished scale from the 6th string root. Any of the patterns in this section of the lesson can be applied to any key, and to any fingering, 6th and 5th string roots.

 

To begin, here are ascending 3rds through the G diminished scale.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 5

 

Moving on, here are descending 3rds played over a G diminished scale.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 6

 

The next practice pattern variation features the first 3rd ascending followed by the second 3rd descending. This is referred to as alternating 3rds when applied to scale practice.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 7

 

The final practice pattern is a reversal of the pattern you just learned, only now you are playing the first 3rd descending, followed by the second 3rd ascending.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 8

 

As was the case with the scale fingerings, once you have learned any or all of these practice patterns, put on a Dim7 backing track and solo over that chord, integrating the 3rds patterns into your improvised lines and phrases.

 

Diminished Scale Arpeggios

When studying diminished scales, one of the most interesting concepts that you can explore is the use of both Dim7 and 7th arpeggios through this scale.

Because you can solo over Dim7 chords with the diminished scale, it is no surprise that you can use Dim7 arpeggios built from this scale in your soloing lines, but many of us may not yet be aware that you can also use 7th arpeggios from the scale to solo over Dim7 chords.

To understand this concept, let’s break down a C diminished scale by first looking at the notes of a C diminished scale.

 

C diminished scale C D Eb F Gb G# A B C

 

 

When you build arpeggios from the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of this scale you produce four Dim7 arpeggios:

  • Cdim7 = C Eb Gb A
  • Ebdim7 = Eb Gb A C
  • Gbdim7 = Gb A C Eb
  • Adim7 = A C Eb Gb

 

Now, let’s take a look at the four arpeggios that you build when constructing shapes from the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th notes of the scale, which are all 7th arpeggios:

  • D7 = D F#(Gb) A C
  • F7 = F A C Eb
  • Ab7 = Ab(G#) C Eb Gb
  • B7 = B D#(Eb) F#(Gb) A

 

If you notice, you build four dim7 arpeggios from the notes of the Cdim7 chord (C, Eb, Gb, A), and you build four 7th arpeggio from the notes of a Ddim7 chord (D, F, Ab, B).

To see these arpeggios on the guitar, here are the ascending versions of each arpeggio in a C diminished scale that you can learn and apply to your jazz soloing lines. As was the case with the 3rd pattern, you can also practice these arpeggios descending, alternating one up and one down, as well as alternating one down and one up in your practice routine.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 9

 

Here is a G diminished scale from the 6th string with the ascending arpeggios applied to this fingering that you can learn and work on in the woodshed.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 10

 

When you have these shapes under your fingers, try putting on a Dim7 backing track and solo over that chord in order to get a feel and hear how these Dim7 and 7th arpeggios sound when applied to a jazz soloing situation.

 

Diminished Scale Licks

To finish this introduction to the diminished scale, here are three licks that you can study and apply to your playing when soloing over Dim7 chords.

The first lick uses 3rds to solo over a Dim7 chord, in a four bar phrase.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 11

 

Moving on, the second lick uses a Bb diminished scale to solo over a Bbdim7 chord in a iiim7-bIIIdim7-iim7-V7 progression.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 12

 

The final lick in this lesson uses the same Bb diminished scale over a Bbdim7 chord, though in this case you will draw from the arpeggios in that scale to build your line.

 

Listen & Jam Along

 

Diminished Scale 13

 

The diminished scale is often a bit tricky to study on the guitar, compared to the major scale modes which are usually quicker and easier to work out on the fretboard. But, by working out various fingerings, practice patterns, arpeggios, and licks, you will ensure that you are ready to nail any Dim7 chord in your soloing lines the next time you run into one.

 

 


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