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
- 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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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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