Thank you to Shai Agmon for this excellent guest lesson on using the Diminished scale, if you enjoy the lesson please share it on facebook, twitter and Google+ and check out Shai’s Facebook and Soundcloud pages!
The Diminished scale is a very common scale used in fusion and jazz players. It has a very unique sound and character, which can be used in many situations in improvisation and composition. In this lesson I’d like to introduce some examples of how to approach it and use it in a melodic way.
The Diminished scale structure
The diminished scale is a symmetrical scale built in a Half tone- Whole Tone – Half Tone – Whole tone structure, thus making it a 8 notes scale with no clear tonic (because of its symmetry, no tone has a specific ‘tonic’ feel). For example, a D diminished scale would be D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, A, B, C (and F, Ab and B Diminished scales would have the exact same notes). It can also be looked as an extension of the Dim7 chord (for example in D: D,F,Ab,B), adding half tone above each of the chord notes.
Using the Diminished scale as a static scale
The use of the Diminished scale as a static scale (as opposed to using it is a temporary tension over dominant chords) has a very dark and mysterious sound, often used in fusion and modal jazz. It is being used a lot in this fashion by players like John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. Here are 2 examples :
*notice that my guitar is tuned a whole step down, so if you want to play with my recordings, transpose everything a step down.
This example is in C# dim. You can see that the chords derived from this scale are very unique, dark and dissonant and has a very recognizable character. This type of melodies were used a lot by the Mahavishnu orchestra in their first albums, and has this sort of almost tribal, heavy sound.
Here’s another example in the same fashion, using the same scale:
Using the Diminished scale as a temporary tension
The other common usage for the Diminished scale, which is more used in traditional jazz, Latin and flamenco music, is to use it as a short phrase over a dominant (or sub dominant that functions as dominant) chord, to create a high tension that resolves in moving to the tonic.
Here are 2 examples:
That’s an example of a classic II, V| I progression. All notes are diatonic to the F major scale besides the 4th beat on the 1st and 3rd bars (the beats that goes with the dominant C7 chord). On these beats I am using the C dominant scale. The b9, #9 and #11 (Db, Eb, and F# respectively) creates a hard noticed tension that’s resolved in the tonic (Fmaj7) that comes in the next beat.
Here’s another example in the same fashion, but the progression doesn’t actually use the dominant chord (C7). The progression is a simple II | I progression in the key of F major, and I’m using diatonic notes most of the time, only adding the G diminished scale on the 4th beat of the II chord, and some chromatic passages on the I chord. The G Diminished scale on the last beat of the subdominant (Gm6 chord) makes it feel like a dominant and makes the movement to the tonic more dramatic and tense:
Hope this was useful; feel free to approach me if you have any questions or interest in additional information! And check out my FB artist page for updates HERE!
About the author
Shai Agmon is a guitarist, pianist and composer from Israel, performing with local rock and folk musicians. He is currently working on his first solo album, planned to be released in 2014. His music is very eclectic and combines influences from rock, Latin, Flamenco, orchestral and modal jazz music. Initial recordings and sketches can be heard HERE.