The Amazing Diminished Scales!

In this lesson we are going to explore some of the amazing-weird stuff you can do with a diminished scale!

Ultimate Guitar
Hello guys and gals, Johnny Andrew here!

This lesson is for weirdos who like to overanalyze stuff, like me! :D

Just kidding, this may be interesting for everyone so, check this out!

Let's begin!


First of all, what is a diminished scale? Well, if you're checking this lesson, you probably already know, but let's define it!
Diminished (or whole-half, half-whole) scale, is a scale in which the notes ascend in alternating intervals of a whole step and a half step! It's called like this because it can be conceived as a combination of two interlocking diminished seventh chords. (from Wikipedia)

Construction/Basic Stuff:

Let's create the E whole-half and E half-whole scales! (Because E is the lowest note of a 6-string guitar and I am a guitarist, lol)

Whole-Half: E - F#(Gb) - G - A - A#(Bb) - C - C#(Db) - D#(Eb) - E
Half-Whole: E - F - G - G#(Ab) - A#(Bb) - B - C#(Db) - D - E

It doesn't need much time to realise that, if you begin from a different note, let's say from G, you take the exact same shapes for both whole-half and half-whole scales! So, we can say that there are only two diminished scale patterns!

The interlocking diminished seventh chords we've talked before for E diminished scales, are the following:

Edim7 (E-G-Bb-Db) and F#dim7 (F#-A-C-D#) for the Whole-Half
Edim7 (E-G-Bb-Db) and Fdim7 (F-Ab-B-D) for the Half-Whole

You can change the name of the chords, it doesn't matter, the sound is the same...

Use 1: Passages between parts

You can use this scale right before a melody you want to stand out. Maybe before your chorus? Even before a melody, when you're jamming! Usually over a dominant chord, implying a dim7, but not necessarily... This scale is extremely dissonant and WANTS to resolve somewhere! Even playing just a few notes of the diminished scale can do the job, so try it out and, if you like the result, adopt it to your playing/composing style and sound different!

Use 2: Key changes

If you're already using diminished 7th chords in your songwriting, you may be familiar with this use... To begin with, a diminished 7th chord consists of consecutive minor 3rds. Let's take, for example, the Edim7 we've seen before (E-G-Bb-Db). Because all the notes are a minor 3rd apart, you can use every note of the chord as the root! (So what, you theory-weirdo?) This means, you can "pretend" that you are playing a different scale, when you want it! And, as you may already know, the dim7 can lead you to the tonic (first chord) of a scale!

The Edim7 we've checked before, can lead you to F (minor or major), G# (minor or major), B (min or maj) and D (min or maj), depending on which note you think as a root!

SO!!! You can alter the dim7's roots/diminished scale notes on your bass (or play a dim7 with an instrument of your choice) and use a diminished scale on your lead instrument (or play a unison of instruments, that's even cooler!) and change tonalities like Dream f--king Theater! (Check "Octavarium" by Dream Theater, 16:50-17:30)

Use 3: Killer riffs

I mean, just play this scale with distortion on your lower strings! Super heavy stuff, right? Maybe use some power chords, too? Maybe some octaves? Sounding like Pantera and Metallica? Nevermore??? Try improvising riffs in the diminished scale and see what I'm talking about! Not like, play just a couple of notes and leave the scale because you can't find anything and blah, blah, blah... Truely IMPROVISE! Today, tomorrow, the day after... You won't be disappointed with the result!

Use 4: Confuse the listener when soloing

(You may need to know some modes for this)

Remember the E diminished scale from above? Let's write it down, again! (We'll use the half-whole one)

Diminished/ half-whole:

E - F - G - G#(Ab) - A#(Bb) - B - C#(Db) - D - E

Now take the E Blues scale, for example:

E - G - A - Bb - B - D - E

If you leave out A, the rest belong to the half-whole!

Take the E Dorian scale:

E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D - E

If you leave out F# and A, the rest belong to the half-whole, again!

E Phrygian:

E - F - G - A - B - C - D - E

Leave out A and C, and the rest are part of half-whole.

E Phrygian Dominant:

E - F - G# - A - B - C - D - E

Leave out A and C, and the rest are part of half-whole.

What about trying something like E Romanian?

E - F# - G - A# - B - C# - D - E

Leave F# out... Ta-dah! Notes of the half-whole!

Well, these are just SOME examples! There are many many more! So, do this:
  • a) Find notes that belong both in a diminished and a scale of your choice
  • b) Use THESE notes mostly.
  • c) Use the rest of the notes of the diminished scale as passage notes and more rarely.
  • d) Get an interesting result!
Check this jam of an amazing player, Rick Graham! In this video, he combines the diminished scale with bluesy, jazzy and chromatic stuff!

YouTube preview picture

You can also check one of my improvisations! This has a more oriental vibe!

YouTube preview picture

So, that's all for our lesson! One last thing that I'd like to add is that, it all depends on your playing/composing style and genre of preference... But it's worth giving this weird scale a chance!

Don't forget to tell me your opinion for the lesson, in the comment section, below! It will really help me improve, as a tutor. Of course, you can ask anything you want!

Hope this was helpful and fun!

See you next time!

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I would like to see the tab for the first video. It starts of slow but then he does this pattern in the solo from 1:14-1:20 that I really want to learn.
    Johnny Andrew
    Well, it's not me playing in the first video and I can't understand exactly, so I don't think I can help you with this... Sorry, man... Maybe, you could ask Rick Graham on YouTube or Facebook!
    Well if you listen to that section of the video he plays this run really fast that I would like to learn. It sounds like part of one of Dimebag's solos. Anyway, thank you for replying.
    Aren't these usually called 'octatonic' scales, at least in classical music? Never heard them being called diminished scales before. Great lesson nonetheless
    Johnny Andrew
    Octatonic scales is a more general term... It refers to scales that consist of 8 notes. The diminished scale is just one octatonic scale example! Thank you very much!
    You are correct. It's sort of like how a half-diminished chord is referred to as a m7b5 or how a minor chord in first inversion is referred to as a Maj6 chord. I think Jazz musicians came up with these nicknames... regardless, it is an interesting way to interpret these scales as scales that outlines diminished triads and not as a scale that symmetrically divides the octave with two minor tetrachords (a tritone apart).
    I figured these out from listening to Converge, but didn't know about mixing it in with the same scale but a tone higher = more notes to write hardcore riffs with
    interesting lesson. Now I start to see the light. Lol!No pun intended Actually get it as to where Yngwie Malmsteen get some of his stuff. Dimimished and then he throw in some Harmonic minor as well.Cool lesson. thnx man!
    your improvisation reminds me of this masterpiece - Rozsa on bass and Seban on guitar... : Chillpill Live Band I Hypnotic
    Johnny Andrew
    wow! never heard of them! they are from Slovakia? we share the same musical influences, that may be the reason I remind you of this! that's an amazing song! thank you!
    Frank M
    Good job! Sounds great!