Tag Archives: half diminished

The Most Important Solo Tools For a Half Diminished Chord

I think many consider the half-diminished or m7b5 the most difficult chord to improvise over, but it is a very common sound in Jazz Standards so you do need to figure it out. I often people try to choose another scale and run up and down that without making any sense r really having anything to say, which isn’t really a solution either.

In this video, I am going to go over some solid solutions for this chord that can help you play better solos and have an easier time improvising over m7b5 chords and minor II V I’s in general, and they are surprisingly simple.

The m7b5 chord – Construction

Let’s first construct a m7b5 chord and look at how it fits in a minor II V I cadence. Then I will cover some of the things you can use when improvising including 7th chord arpeggios, triads, quartals and pentatonic scales. You can never have too many options when it comes to material to improvise with. I will also talk about why you don’t want to always use the locrian nat 2 scale.

Arpeggios and Scales I will cover:

  • 7th Chord Arpeggios
  • Triads
  • Quartal Arpeggios
  • Pentatonic Scales

This is pretty simple: Here is a Em7 chord: E G B D and the half-diminished or Em7b5 chord will then be: E G Bb D.

The chord symbol we use is either m7b5 or you use the symbol for diminished but then put a line through it to note that it is not a full diminished chord but a half-diminished chord.

This is one of the few places where my Danish heritage is extremely useful  for learning Jazz harmony since the letter ø is a part of the Danish alphabet and on my keyboard, so for once I have an unfair disadvantage!

Diminished vs Half-diminished

The difference between a diminished chord and a half-diminished chord is that the diminished chord has a diminished 7th which is enharmonic to a 6th, the half-diminished has a

So an E diminished would be E G Bb Db

where the half-diminished is E G Bb D

In this lesson, the m7b5 chord is the II chord in a minor II V I like this:


The m7b5 arpeggio

There is nothing wrong with the m7b5 arpeggio, you already know it and you are already using it. It can be a great idea to expand your options so you have a basic arpeggio melody like this:

But  an arpeggio is a bunch of notes that you can play in many ways, and this is certainly something you want to explore. Here is an example  with a little octave displacement like this:

Triad from the 3rd

If you look at an Eø and the notes in there Eø: E G Bb D then you could choose to not use the root and make some lines focusing on the top 3 notes: G Bb D which is a Gm triad.

For your comping the Gm triad might also prove a useful voicing to explore.


Maj7 from b5

On a m7b5 the arpeggio from the b5 is a great option to get the b5 and the 11th in a line. This arpeggio does contain the b9 which is considered an avoid note, but in this case it is hidden inside the arpeggio so you don’t naturally emphasize that note.

 

Magic Arpeggio

The Magic Arpeggio is a an altered version of the previous example, but now the b9 is changed in to the root so that you don’t have that problem.

Normal Bbmaj7: Bb D F A -> Bb D E A – Bb Magic Arpeggio

In the end it is more important that this arpeggio just sounds great I guess:

 

It’s funny how the magic arpeggio is not allowed to be called maj7b5, on my other video on half-diminished chords I had one guy ranting over the term “half-diminished” Which is weird to me because it is a pretty logical name if you know the theory.

Why not always Locrian #2?

Of course, it makes more sense to choose arpeggios and structures so that they don’t contain notes that don’t really sound good with the chord. At the same time, I think that with the m7b5 chords it has become a trend to use Locrian nat 2 because it does not have any avoid notes. There are a few problems with that:

1. You are better off worrying about what to play and find things that sound good, and not spend time on what you shouldn’t play
2. You should choose the scale so that it contains what you think sounds better in the context if that 9th is important then play that, but chances are that is not what you hear in the music.
3. It is not a good strategy to choose a scale so that it has no avoid-notes and you can run up and down it at random. That is not how you make music.

Quartals

If you are coming up short when looking for things to play over a chord then going over the quartal arpeggios in the scale is almost always a great idea.

The quartal arpeggios in the scale would be this on the middle string-set:

 

In this example I am using thequartal arpeggios from

Bb: Bb E A and A: A D G

 

 

Locrian Pentatonic

Another great resource to explore for a chord is finding some pentatonic scales that work. There a few that could work, and especially this one which is essentially a minor pentatonic with a b5:

Em pentatonic: E G A B D E
E Locrian pentatonic: E G A Bb D E

You could play that like this:

 

A line using this scale could be something like this:

 

What you want to notice is that I play the scale using 2 notes per string and then try to exploit that when I search for melodies. In a way that is using the strength of pentatonic scales.

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How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios

The minor II V I is often a troubling cadence for begining Jazz guitarists. That is probably because the II is a m7b5 or half diminished chord which can be tricky and also because you have two or three different scales going on through the cadence.

In this lesson I want to go over the chords and the scales you need to improvise over them. From that I will take 3 arpeggios, one for each chord, and talk about how you practice them and with some examples of lines over the minor II V I hopefully give you some ideas about how to improvise over this cadence.

All the examples in this lesson are over a II V I in the key of C minor as shown in example 1

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 1

The scales that I chose for each chord are fairly straight forward, the Dm7b5 chord is seen as coming from C minor so that is the scale I use. For the G7 I chose the altered scale which is one of the possible options. C harmonic minor would be another obvious choice. The tonic chord I play in the cadence is a m7 chord, but it could ahve been a m6 or mMaj7 chord. Since it is a Cm7 I chose Dorian as a scale sound, and otherwise you could use Aeolian which is the same as Natural minor.

To keep it easy to approach from a technical point of view I put all the scales and arpeggios in one position on the neck around the 8th fret C. If you start working on this you should probably also move it around to other positions once you get more familiar with the arpeggios and the cadence.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 2

Choosing the arpeggios are easy for the Dm7b5 and Cm7 chords since you can just use a diatonic arpeggio for each of those. The G7alt arpeggios is a bit more tricky since the G altered scale has a Gm7b5 as a diatonic arpeggio on the G. To find a good substitute you could look at a G7(b9b13) voicing and realize that it is often played as an Fm7b5 with a G bass note (I demonstrate this in the video). This means that you can use the Fm7b5 arpeggio as to convey the sound of the G7alt chord when you are improvising which is what I chose to do in this lesson. The arpeggios

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 3

For a more detailed look into the altered sound you could check out: Melodic Minor – Altered Scale

When you practice the arpeggios the first thing you need to do is of course to just play through them and learn them one a t a time. Once you can do that you should try a few patterns like groups of 3 and 4 etc. To connect the arpeggios to the progression you can practice them like this:

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 4

Once you can do this you should try to connect the arpeggios like shown hereunder. Practicing the arpeggios in this way over the progression is a way to get closer to how you improvise, something that you should also strive after when making exercises.

The idea is to start playing the arpeggios over the progression and then when ever the chord changes to continue the movement with the note that is the closest in the next arpeggio. It’s quite tricky to get started with but very rewarding when you start getting the freedom while improvising.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 5

With an exercise like this you get a completely new exercise if you start on a different note, and if you keep on going it should keep mutating into new exercises, also a very healthy way to keep your ears and mind busy while practicing something as simple as arpeggios.

Example lines

The first example starts with a straight forward Dm7 arpeggio from the root to the root. I am playing it in a skipping pattern that I use a lot, so I start on the 3rd and then go 1, b5, 3 b7 etc etc. On the G7alt I am basically just playing the descending Fm7b5 arpeggio, but it is broken up rhythmically. The first part is a swept arpegigio from the 7th to the root, and then it continues down from the 7th in the next octave. The Altered line resolves  to the 5th(G) of Cm and from there it runs up the Cm7 arpeggio, skips down to the root and then up to the fifth.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 6

Motiefs should always be a part of your melodic tool box, and so should the triad on the third of the chord you play over! The first part of the 2nd example is purely based on a using the Fm triad over the Dm7b5 and then using it as a motief and using the Fdim triad over the G7alt. The altered line resolves via the F to the Eb on Cm7. The Cm7 line is first moving up from the root to the 3rd before it descends down to the  rest on the 5th.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 7

Th last line is starting out with the D dim triad over the Dm7b5. In this example it gives a sort of bluesy flavour. After that it descends down the arpeggio to encircle and resolve to B over the G7alt. The Fm7b5 arpeggio is played ascending and skips around at the end to resolve to the 5th(G) of Cm7. The final part of the line is employing a slide to add some blues to the Cm7 arpeggio.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 8

I hope you can use the arpeggios and exercises I went over here to get started making some melodically strong solos that really dig into the harmony and negociate the minor II V I cadence.

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How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios

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