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How to Play Over Dim7 Chords


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Soloing over dim7 chords (aka diminished 7 or °7) can often handcuff even experienced players, as they aren’t as commonly used in jazz progressions as m7, 7th, and maj7 chords. Because we don’t see them as often as other, more commonly used chords, it’s easy to fall back on one or two favorite ideas over dim7 chords, or skip soloing on those chords all together.

To avoid these pitfalls, and to build confidence and variety when soloing over dim7 chords, this lesson will guide you through a variety of arpeggios, scales, practice patterns, and licks that you can use in your solos.

Each example in this lesson is presented in only one key, so make sure to move these examples to other keys, as well as practice them at various tempos with a metronome, to get the most out of the material in this lesson.

 

Dim7 Arpeggios

To begin your study of soloing over dim7 chords, let’s dive into arpeggios as they are the most direct way to outline dim7 chords in your soloing lines and phrases.

Here is a two-octave dim7 arpeggio that begins with the root note on the 6th string. Start by learning this arpeggio, memorizing it, and then taking it to other keys across the fretboard as you expand on this shape in your studies.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 1

 

Here is a two-octave arpeggio that begins with a 5th-string root, that you can use to expand your ability to play dim7 arpeggios in different parts of the fretboard.

Once you can play both the 6th and 5th-string arpeggios, you can then pick a key, such as the given key of Gdim7, and then play both arpeggios in that key from memory. This will help you visualize the dim7 arpeggio in any key across two sections of the fretboard, allowing you to access a dim7 arpeggio in your soloing quickly and avoid jumping around the fretboard to reach those shapes in your playing.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 2

 

Lastly, here is a 3-octave dim7 arpeggio that you can use when you have more time to experiment with a longer arpeggio shape in your soloing.

Once you have this shape under your fingers, try playing the two-octave dim7 arpeggio on the 6th-string root, followed by this 3-octave shape, in order to hear and see how these two shapes compare on the fretboard, as they start on the same root note but differ in sound from there.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 3

 

Once you have any or all of these arpeggios under your fingers, from memory, put on a dim7 backing track and begin to solo over dim7 chords using only these three arpeggios, one at a time at first, to build your lines.

When that is comfortable, try putting on a Jazz Blues, Rhythm Changes, or other tune that contains dim7 chords and apply these arpeggios to your solos over those forms as well in order to expand your studies to full tunes with these dim7 concepts.

 

Dim7 Arpeggio Patterns

To help you expand on practicing dim7 arpeggios, here are three patterns that you can apply to your practice routine.

The first dim7 arpeggio pattern is often found in John Coltrane’s soloing lines, and features a one-note pickup followed by a series of triplet rhythms moving up the arpeggio from there.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 4

 

Moving on, you can now add approach notes below each note in the arpeggio that you are applying them to.

This means that when playing up or down any dim7 arpeggio, you play a note one fret below each note in the arpeggio shape, “approaching” each note in the dim7 arpeggio by a half-step below.

Because of the number of chromatic notes in this pattern, practicing it with a backing track rather than a metronome would be helpful, as it will allow you to hear those chromatic notes against a harmonic chord or progression while you learn to play it on the guitar.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 5

 

The final dim7 arpeggio pattern involves adding enclosures to each note in the arpeggio shape that you are practicing in your studies. This involves playing one fret above, one fret below, and then the arpeggio note you are enclosing.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 6

 

With any or all of these patterns under your fingers, try applying them to your soloing ideas over a backing track.

We often think of practice patterns such as these as purely technical exercises, but they can also be used to solo over dim7 chords as they help break up your arpeggio lines, making them sound more musical and less technical at the same time.

 

Dim7 Arpeggio Licks

As well as practicing arpeggio patterns, you can also study common dim7 arpeggio licks in order to hear these shapes used in a musical situation over common Jazz chord progressions.

The first lick is played over the first two bars of a Rhythm Changes progression in the key of Bb, the most commonly used key for Rhythm Changes to jam over.

Here, the Bdim7 arpeggio is simply played ascending over the Bdim7 chord, but notice how the arpeggio is lead into by a half step, and lead out of by a half step, which can be an effective way to navigate into or out of any dim7 arpeggio in your soloing.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 7

 

In the next sample phrase, you will use an Adim7 arpeggio to outline an F7 chord in your soloing.

Playing a dim7 arpeggio from the 3rd of any 7th chord is a common way to outline a 7b9 sound in your lines, without hitting the root along the way.

In this instance, you are playing the 3rd, 5th, b7th, and b9th, of the F7 chord when using the Adim7 arpeggio over that bar in the progression.

After you have learned this line, try playing dim7 arpeggios from the 3rd of other 7th chords in your playing, as this is essential Jazz vocabulary to study, as well as a great way to use your dim7 arpeggios over more commonly heard chords, 7ths, rather than waiting to use them only over dim7 chords.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 8

 

In this final sample line, you are applying an F#dim7 arpeggio over the second bar of a C blues chord progression.

Notice how the notes in bar 2 are the same for each chord, F7-F#dim7, except the G has been lowered to an F# over F#dim7 to outline that chord more directly in that section of the bar.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 9

 

Click here to learn how to improvise with arpeggios...

 

Whole Half Diminished Scales

In this next section, you will study the whole half diminished scale as this is the scale you use to solo over dim7 chords in a Jazz setting.

The WH dim scale alternates whole steps and half steps in its construction, as compared to the Half Whole diminished scale, which alternates half and whole steps in its construction.

It’s easy to be confused a bit when it comes to these two diminished scales, so just try to remember that WH dim is used over dim7 chords, and HW dim is used over 7b9 chords. This will help you keep those two scales organized in your soloing.

Here is a chart to help you see the interval structure of the WH dim scale before taking this scale to the fretboard from there.

 

The diminished scale 1 9 b3 11 b5 #5 13 7 1
      W       H         W          H          W         H         W       H

 

 

To begin, here is a two-octave dim7 scale that you can learn, and then practice in all keys with a metronome, as you take it around the fretboard.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 10

 

Moving on, here is a two-octave WH dim scale from the 5th-string root that you can use to move this scale higher up on the fretboard.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 11

 

The final scale is a 3-octave WH dim scale that you can practice and use in your soloing when you have more time to expand upon this scale in your lines and phrases.

With all three scales under your fingers, pick a key and play the three WH dim scales in that key. Test yourself in all 12 keys so that you can work out how to play each of these scales on their own, and together on the fretboard, in all keys across the neck.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 12

 

After you have learned these three diminished scale shapes, try playing up each arpeggio you learned in the previous section, and then down the scale that relates to each arpeggio in your studies.

This is a great exercise for developing a connection between dim7 arpeggios and scales in your playing, as well as provides you with the ability to move between these two common dim7 outlines in your Jazz lines and phrases.

 

Whole Half Diminished Scale Patterns

As was the case with dim7 arpeggios, you can also add practice patterns to your WH dim scale practicing time.

This first pattern involves playing 3rds ascending up the scale, which you can also play descending down the scale if you want to take it a step further.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 13

 

The second diminished scale practice pattern uses one 3rd down followed by one 3rd up as you alternate descending and ascending 3rds up the WH dim scale.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 14

 

This last scale pattern is a commonly heard idea in the solos of many bebop era soloists, and it’s one you can use to build your confidence with the WH dim scale.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 15

 

With each of these patterns, or just one to begin, under your fingers. Try playing up any Gdim7 arpeggio pattern and down any Gdim7 scale pattern in order to begin mixing those two ideas.

 

Whole Half Diminished Scale Licks

In this last section you will learn three WH dim scale licks applied to various common Jazz chord progressions that you can use in your practice routine and jazz jam situations.

This first line features a common scale pattern (1235) over the first three chords in this Rhythm Changes chord progression, including the Bdim7 chord in the second half of the first bar.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 16

 

In this line you will use the Db WH dim scale to solo over a popular Jazz chord progression, iiim7-biiidim7-iim7-V7, in this case in the key of Bb major.

Notice that the Db bar features a WH scale descending straight down from G to A, though halfway through the notes are raised an octave, rather than just continue straight down the scale in the original octave. This technique is known as “octave displacement,” and is a used by many great Jazz guitarists including Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and others.

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 17

 

The final phrase is applied to the middle four bars of a jazz blues progression in the key of C. The WH dim scale here features a bit of a melodic pattern over the second bar of the progression...

 

Listen & Play

Dim7 Soloing 18

 

Once you have these three lines under your fingers, try writing out some of your own...


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