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:
Triads of the Diminished scale – part 1
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