The Amazing Diminished Scales!

author: Johnny Andrew date: 04/08/2014 category: guitar scales and modes
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The Amazing Diminished Scales!
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!

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

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!
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