The Half-Whole Diminished Scale. Pt 1

In this guitar lesson we take a look at the half-whole diminished scale. It's a very dark sounding scale, and is one of my favorites. I hope you like it too!

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In this guitar lesson we're going to take a look at the half-whole diminished scale. It's a very dark sounding scale, and is one of my favorites. It can be used in quite a wide range of musical situations ranging from metal to jazz. You can also get away with using it to some extent in a blues context, although the die-hard blues traditionalists might raise their eye brows in horror when they hear you using it. [Side Note: I remember a blues jam night I went to many years ago, where I got a little bit too drunk before playing. Let's just say that the patrons weren't too thrilled about the vast number of diminished scale licks that I was playing. So be careful. This scale might just get you into trouble!:-)] The cool thing about the half-whole diminished scale is that it's constructed entirely of alternating half-steps and whole-steps. (You might have guessed that from its name). You can really see the structure of this scale clearly when you map it onto a single string. Here's the C Half-Whole Diminished scale mapped onto the B-string...

C Half-Whole Diminished Scale: Notes Mapped On B-String

The really interest thing about this scale is that, because of its symmetrical nature, it's actually four different half-whole diminished scales rolled into one. To see what I mean, I've worked out the notes of three other diminished scales and written them down below...

  • D# Half-Whole Diminished Scale: D# E F# G A Bb C Db D#
  • F# Half-Whole Diminished Scale: F# G A Bb C Db D# E F#
  • A Half-Whole Diminished Scale: A Bb C Db D# E F# G A

Notice how they all contain the same notes as C Half-Whole Diminished scale. What this all means is that by working really hard on the C Half-Whole diminished scale, you are also developing thesethree other scales at the same time. Cool huh?

OK. Now that we've talked a little bit about how the scale's constructed, let's now look at a specific scale fingering. Here's a useful fingering that uses the three-note-per-string approach...

C Half-Whole Diminished Scale: Three-Note-Per-String Fingering

Here's the same fingering written out as an exerciseusing TAB...

C Half-Whole Diminished Scale: Exercise

Watch a video of me playing this exercise at a few different speeds below:
YouTube preview picture

Although I written the exact fingerings and pick motions that I personally use to play the exercise, don't feel that you have to use the same approachas me. Feel free to playthe exerciseusing the techniques that you want to develop. For Example: If you want to develop your legato technique, then practice the exercise using hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Another thing thatI need to mention here is thatit's a great idea tolearn to play the exercise using different subdivisions such as...

  • Eighth Notes (This is when you play two evenly-spaced notes per click of your metronome).
  • Eighth-Note Triplets (This is when you play three evenly-spaced notes per click of your metronome).
  • Sixteenth Notes (This is when you play four evenly-spaced notes per click of your metronome).

Doing this will help improve your timing and overall technique. It will also help prepare you for using the scale in actual improvising.So don't be lazy.Dust offyour metronome and be sureexperiment with different timings!

A Few Last Words

This lesson was only intended to be a very short introduction to this very cool scale. We'll definitely be expanding upon what we've covered in future lessons.Fornow, just be sure to work hard at what we looked at, and be sure that you learn it thoroughly. Also remember to have some fun with the scale. Experiment, and see what ideas you can come up with.

Have fun!

About The Author: Craig Bassett is a professional electric guitar teacher who is currently living in Melbourne, Australia. To get more free articles and lessons designed to help your playing, then be sure to subscribe to his electric guitar newsletter.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Just a suggestion for the video, don't bother showing the scale note-by-note on the guitar - it's way faster for people to just read it from the tab. Use the video to show us how the scale sounds and some good applications for it.
    For people who want to know, this scale is used for/constructs a Dominant 7th chord with any kind of altered 9th and a natural 13th. You can't just play this scale anywhere you choose, it will sound wrong.
    A good article, but I think you should mention the real name of the scale, the Octatonic scale. Instead of only calling it by the informal name.
    Why? If no one really uses that name or would even know what you're talking about half the time there's no real reason to do that.
    Because there are people who use the name. Those who don't need it don't have to remember it, but it is definitely part of the lexicon
    Because it is used. Many people trained only in classical theory only know it as the octatonic and are not familiar with the term diminished
    The term "octatonic" is descriptive only in that the scale has eight tones. For example, you could also call the Whole-Half Diminshed Scale an "octatonic" scale because it also has eight tones, but those two scales are NOT interchangeable in their application. The term is not specific enough and that's why it's not used as often.
    I was about saying the same thing. The world octatonic does not tell you the name of the scale, but how many notes it has. For example: Pentatonic: 5 notes. Hexatonic: 6 notes. Heptatonic: 7 notes, and so on... Also, Bebop is a kind of octatonic scale as well since it has 8 notes, but its real name is bebop scale
    I need harmony for this scale! So that I can just shred it out over a jam track and see what lies beneath... Thanks!