The Diminished scale is a scale that you have probably heard of and you know that it is a symmetrical scale and most of the time when people talk about using it then you get all these patterns that repeat. But for, the problem was always that melodies with repeating patterns like that don’t sound that great. Some people can make that work, but I always wanted a different sound with strong melodies that were not that predictable.
In this video, I am going to show you how I improvise using the diminished scale and talk a little bit about how I never really practiced the scale but focused on something else.
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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 #IV-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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One of the best approaches to make melodic lines with a synthetic scale like the diminished scale is to use the triads contained in the scale. In this lesson I am going to go over how I use triads for dominant 7th lines and also go over some exercises to get some new ideas for the lines.
The Diminished scale
Since the diminished scale is more of a synthetic construction than an actual key or scale it can be difficult to make some good melodies with the scale. It is something that you add as a surprising “outside” effect in your playing, even if that is not how we think about it, because it is a standard part of the dom7th sound repertoire.
I never use the diminished scale on diminished chords which is maybe ironical, but that probably has to do with the fact that when I come across dim chords they are very often a part of a very functional chord progression, and in that case it makes much more sense to use a scale that is linked to the key.
When using the diminished scale on a G7 dominant we use this scale, which is sometimes referred to as a B diminished scale. The scale is shown in example 1:
The major triads in the Diminished scale
If you start builiding different triads in the scale you’ll find that we have four triads in the scale: G, Bb, Db and E, as shown in Example 2:
In order to make melodies with the triads it is very useful to check out the inversions of the triads. In example 3 I have written out the inversions of the G and Bb triads in the position of the scale from example 1.
You should try to find the inversions for the E and Db as well, it is essential that you know the triads well enough (theoretically) to figure this out if you want to have a chance of making some good melodies with them.
Putting the triads to work on a II V I
In the next three examples I am using the triads in inversions to make lines that are both strong and surprising among other things because they contain larger intervals. I have written out the G7 as a G7(13b9b5) chord which is one of the chords that you could construct from the colors found in the diminished scale.
In the first example the line on the Dm7 consists of two quartal harmony arpeggios chained together. On the G7 I am first using an E major triad in 1st inversion adn then a Bb triad in 2nd inversion before it resolves to the 3rd(E) of Cmaj7.
The 2nd example is using another way of playing quartal arpeggios that is a bit stretchy but works very well, especially if you think of it as coming out of a pentatonic scale. If you want to see how pentatonic scales and stacks of 4ths are connected you can check out this lesson: Do you really know the pentatonic scale? The line then continues with a scale run in a D minor pentatonic scale.
The G7 the line consists of a root position Db major triad and a 2nd inversion Bb major triad. You should notice that since it is a G7 then the G major triad is not in itself so interesting because we want all the interesting colors that the other triads have over our G7. The G major triad will not add anything surprising.
The last example has a more traditional Dm line with a Dm9 arpeggio. On the G7 the line is constructed by a 1st inversion Db major triad and an E major triad in root position. Both triads are using the octave so that they are 4 note arpeggios. The line resolves to the 9th(D) of Cmaj7
I hope you can use the information and exercises I went over here to get started using triads when improvising. As I mentioned in the beginning the triad and it’s inversions are incredibly strong melodies and therefore really powerful tools for making lines. Not only in the context of the diminished scale, but also in a lot of other types of harmony.
If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:
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The tritone scale is a great symmetric scale that you can use as a tool for making some interested dominant 7th lines. In this lesson I will go over how it is constructed, suggest a few exercises and give you some examples of how you can use the scale in a cadence.
The Tritone Scale is a synthetic scale like the diminished or whole tone scale. What I mean by that is that it is a construction of notes and not something like a key. That doesn’t mean that you can’t put it to good use in a tonal context. The fact that it is symmetrical makes it in some ways easy to use on guitar and you can in general find some good sounds from the Tritone scale to vary your dom7th vocabulary a bit.
The Tritone scale can be viewed as a triad pair, where it is constructed by two major triads a tritone apart. This means that it is a subset of the diminished scale which is symmetrical not only in tritones but also in minor 3rds. I already made quite a few lessons on triad pairs the first one is here: LINK and everything that you can do with triad pairs you can also do with the tritone scale.
In this lesson all the examples are using the scale you get when combining the A major and Eb major triads. In example 1 you see the scale written out not as triads but as a scale with a symmetrical fingering:
If you play the scale in diatonic triads you will notice that you get the two triads in inversions:
You can also make the observation that the scale contains both A7 and Eb7 so you can play it in symmetrical dom7th arpeggios:
A very common pattern that is used in this scale is this way of chainging the triads together like this:
I have heard both Michael Brecker and Arch Enemy use this.
Using the scale on a dominant 7th chord.
In the folowing examples I am demonstrating how you can use this on a dominant that resolves to a tonic chord.
The first example is making a variation on the pattern from example 4 so that it is not the same on both triads and a little bit less predictable. For my taste it is more useful to try to avoid too much symmetrical sounding lines and use that it is technically easy but change it so that it is surprising to the ear, and thus a stronger melody.
The 2nd line is trying to move a bit away from the symmetrical aspect and using something that the scale also has: there are a few places where you can easily do trills. The line starts out with an A major triad and the moves up in position to make a trill on the 5th(E) of A. From there it continues with descending A and Eb first inversion triads to resolve to a Dmaj7
The third example uses an almost pentatonic pattern that is also shifts symmetrically to be part of A7 and the part of Eb7. After that it continues with an 2nd inverstion A major triad and an Eb in 1st inversion before it resolves to F# on Dmaj7.
The way I have demonstrated the use of the scale with dominant 7th with some of the traditional or 1st choice patterns and what you can do with them is fairly basic and should give you a good grip on getting started using this scale.
I hope you can use the material in the lesson to make you own lines and add a nother sound to your dom7th vocabulary!
The other tritone scale
Since this scale is a subset of the diminished scale we could also approach a dominant by using the “other triad pair” so in this case it would be making lines with C and F# triads. If you want me to make a lesson on this then please let me know by commenting on the video or send me an e-mail.
If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here for later study you can do so here: Tritone Scale
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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.
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
And here is an overview of the scales I’d use.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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