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):
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.
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.
3) This 2 notes/string fingering pattern is very symmetrical, except for the b-string of course. Also moveable by 3 frets…
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:
1) A diminished chord that is a semitone higher than the root of the dominant chord. Example: over G7, play Ab°7
2) A 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.
Here’s a backing track for your practice:
- 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: