Tag Archives: dim chord

Secret to play over Diminished Chords

Everybody find Diminished chords troublesome to play over, but actually it is not as difficult as you think. In this video I will go over how I improvise over a diminished chord and give you the tools and knowledge to add it to your guitar solos.

Three main types of Dim Chords

A diminished chord is a collection of notes that always want to resolve. They are never used as a tonic chord, but always as a means of tension towards or suspension of another chord. The first thing to notice is that diminished chords have different ways to resolve, in fact there are three main types of dim chords resolutions you will come across. These are shown in example 1 here below:

Dominant Diminished Chords

The first diminished chord is a G#dim resolving to an Am7. This Dim chord functions as a dominant and could easily be replaced with an E7.

I assume you know how to play a dominant resolving to a minor chord like E7(b9) to Am, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this type in this lesson.

Sub-Dominant Diminished Chords

The other two are #IV diminished chords. These are not dominants but are sub dominants and resolve in a different way. The easiest way to think of them is as #IV dim, but you are also (or most even) likely to come accross them in inversions (as you will see in the examples)

The two most common progressions where you will come across these are the #VI-I and #IV-IV. In the first case the Fdim to Fmaj7, where Fdim is an inversion of Bdim, which is #IV in F major.

The last part of example 1 is a #IV dim chord (Ab dim or Bdim/Ab in this case) resolving to a subdominant chord: Gm7. This is a very common dim chord to encounter in turnarounds and is also found in a lot of standards like The Song is You or Embraceable You.

So we have three types of progressions where one is easy to play because we can treat it as a V I progression.

How to not use the diminished scale

The scale that you need to use in a context not the diminished scale. Primarily because the diminished scale is a symetrical and synthetic construction and not really what fits any type of tonal song. Most jazz standard progressions, where we find the diminished chords, are tonal.

The best way to approach this is probably to take a look at the scale that is the key. In this case that is F major as shown in example 2. If we alter this scale to contain a Dim chord then we get either an A harmonic minor scale or you could also choose a C harmonic major scale.

In most cases the A harmonic minor scale is more familiar so for now we can just stick with that. The C harmonic major option only differs one note and the difference is not that big.

The Secret Trick to Dim Chords

The secret trick in this case is to use the target notes that we associate with the V I resolutions, so in this case we coud resolve the dim chord to an A or a C over the Fmaj7 or Gm7. In Example 3 I have written out some simple exercises so you can hear how it sounds.

It’s all about target notes

So instead of making lines that resolve to the basic chord tones of the chord you can make lines as if you are resolving a dom7th chord and get used to how they sound over the chord you want to resolve to.

Idim – Imaj7

This type of progression is fairly common in songs like “I Remember You” or “You Do Something To Me”

Using the target notes of A and C in this situation is not so difficult since the A and C are both chord tones on an Fmaj7: F A C E.

Below are to examples of simple lines resoving to first the C and then the A.

The material I am using on the Bdim is really spelling out an E7(b9). E7(b9) is of course also what you are left with if you take an A harmonic minor scale and leave out A and C. 

The bIII dim resolving to IIm7.

This is usually the dim chord situation that is causing the most problems. It is also the example where you end up playing towards extensions over the II chord that you are maybe not as used to resolving to or hearing.

The first thing you want to be used to is the sound of the dim chord resolving to Gm7 as I wrote out in example 3.

For the bIII dim chord I have a few different examples. The first two are in the context of a III bIII II V I progression. 

1st Turnaround example

The Am7 line is a basic Am triad which is followed by a dim arpeggio from B to Ab. The Ab is then resolved to A on the Gm7. The A is then used as a top note in an Bbmaj7 arpeggio.

2nd Turnaround example

The 2nd turnaround example is using the C over the Gm7 chord.

The line starts with a scale run from A to C on the Am7. The Abdim line is a descending arpeggio run from the 3rd(B). On the Gm7 the line first resolves to C, which is the target note, and from there continues with a Bb major triad played in a 153 pattern.

Longer bIIIdim lines

To help you get used to the sound I have also included two examples where you can hear the resolution and I am adding the chord under the target note so that you can easily hear how it resolves.

The first example is using a dim arpeggio pattern followed by an E7 arpeggio that resolves to 9th(A) over Gm7.

The second example uses a similar arpeggio pattern that is followed by an E7(b9) fragment. This resolves to the 11th(C) on the Gm7 where I again have added the chord under the target note.

How to work on this material

The important thing is that you train yourself to hear how these target notes work and sound over the chords and in that way get the lines that you already have in your system as dominant lines to work in this other context.

Adding the chords under the target notes or just sitting down to voicelead chords towards with the target notes in the melody can be very useful besides all the exercises I covered in this lesson!

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Secret to play over diminished chords

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How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression

This lesson comes from a short discussion with a friend of mine who mentioned that he was tired of what he played on the dim chord progression. I am going to try to answer this by not so much give some arps or patterns to play, but more try to talk about how what you play relates to the chord before or after. For me personally that is a much better strategy for making lines on almost any progression.

The Progression

In one of my previous lessons I talked about how the scales and arpeggios I would use on the I bIIIdim II V: Turnarounds part 2 – I bIIIdim II V For the III bIIIdim II V I am using the exact same scales as the III is only there as a sub for the I chord.

The examples in this lesson are in the key of Ab, so the progression is

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression ex 1

And here is an overview of the scales I’d use.

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression ex 2

For the Cm7 I am using Ab Major (it’s the 3rd degree in Ab). The Bdim is using C harmonic minor. Bb is using Ab Major (which you could also call Bb Dorian) and the Eb7alt is the altered scale, which is the same note set as E melodic minor.

The lines

So as I mentioned I tend to focus more on how I fit what I am playing over a chord in a bigger melodic context instead of having tons of licks and patterns that I string together. For me this works a lot better for the solo as a whole. I also prefer using the harmonic minor scale over the bIII dim chords because I find that it is more connected to the context where the chord is. Another problem with the diminished scale is that it lends itself too well to patterns, and overuse of the symmetrical aspect of the scale. For me personally that often yields very weak and uninspired melodies that don’t come from the sound of the notes but more the fingering or pattern being played. Obviously there are lots of great players who like to use stuff like this, Mike Stern and Michael Brecker to name a few, and I am very aware that this is a question of taste.

In the first example the melodic focus is on moving a motif through the progression. The main motif is first played on the Cm7 as a Cm pentatonic melody. It is then altered to fit the Bdim (and actually becoming a G7 arpeggio), repeated in the original form (but a whole step lower) on the Bbm7 and then concluded by an E7alt line using an A7 arpeggio and a trill to resolve to an Abmaj7.

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression ex 3

The second example is a sort of statement follow up, or maybe even call response per chord. It may be a bit hard for me to really describe this. The Cm7 line is in fact a Cm7 arpeggio first ascending then descending. To me the defining characteristic is the ascending arpeggio. It is answeered on the Bdim by a triplet descending arpeggio which then continues to a Bbm7 arpeggio played similar to the Cm7 arpeggio. On the Eb7alt the line is firs a descending A major triad followed by an EmMaj7 arp that resolves to the 5th(Eb) of Abmaj7

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression ex 4

The final example is not using motifs or repetitions, but is instead trying to create a flow over the 4 bars. The first line on the Cm7 is a pattern played in the Cm pentatonic scale. It is then to some degree enforced by the ascending line on the Bdim ending on a high G which is resolved to an F. You could describe the first four notes of the line as an Abdim(maj7) arpeggio. On the Bbm7 the high register of the Bdim is resolved with an arpeggio run and it moves via an encircling of the G to the Eb7alt. The construction of the line on the dominant chord is a triad pair: Gaug and A major. First the G augmented followed by a 2nd inversion A major and then the first two notes of the G augmented which are resolved to the 9(Bb) on the AbMaj7.

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression ex 5

I hope the melodic concepts I talk about in this lesson are something you can use to get some new lines on this type of progression, and that you have an idea about why I prefer the harmonic minor scale on the dim chords.

As always you can download the examples as a PDF here:

How to make lines on a III bIIIdim II V progression

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.