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Theory: diminished scales

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by jblmusic1994, Jan 2, 2014.

  1. Hello, I haven't been on in months, but I was just reading up on the internet about some scale over chord ideas. I was hoping some of you could elaborate.

    The half-whole diminished scale is an 8 note scale, correct? Made by the patterns of half and whole steps.

    So for example, a half-whole diminished scale starting on G would include (enharmonically spelled) triads.
    G major triad, Bb major triad, Db major triad and E major triad. Is this correct?

    Also, would a half-whole diminished scale starting on G, have the same notes as a whole-half starting on G#?

  2. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I do not know of a half-whole diminished scale, however, there are some gaps in my scale theory. There is a whole tone and then there is a half tone, but I've yet to see a half-whole. When we get off into this kind of stuff, I rely upon:
    http://www.looknohands.com/chordhouse/guitar/index_rb.html or one of the other scale sites.

    Key to understand what is in each is of course the Whole step / Half steps order, i.e. is it 1-2-1-2-1-2 or is it 2-1-2-1-2-1? You have to scroll the screen down a bit to see the 1-2-1-2 order.

    Take a look at the Whole Tone Scale, it's all 2's or whole tones. Then when we get into the diminished it's a combination of both whole and half steps.

    I think you will be able to answer your questions by playing what if games with that site.

    The site does sometime give sharps when flats would be the accepted correct answer. Just be aware....
  3. DriesG


    Feb 27, 2009
    Gent (Belgium)

    i tend to look at scales in functions. Half whole gives this: 1 b9 #9 3 #11 5 13 b7.

    In the key of G this gives you the notes G, Ab, Bb, B, C#, D, E and F. The major triads are G, Db, Bb and E. Note that there are only 3 different symmetric octotonic scales (G=Bb=Db=E, G#=B=D=F etc...).

    These triads can be played in minor or diminished using the same scale notes, which makes it a very versatile scale.

    It's the same notes as G#/Ab whole-half, but the resulting "diminished" scale is normally used in a different "function/context" than the above octotonic scale in G (half-whole).
  4. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Yes you are correct.
    I would like to add few things for you:

    Because of its symmetrical shape, there is only 3 diminished scales to cover the 12 tones. Each scale as you know from your statement is an inversion of 3 other scales or chords built on minor thirds.

    Make sure that those major triads imply in fact dominant chords with a flat 9. So your G major is the base of G7(b9) or even a Bo7/G. These are 2 different ways to express the same sound.

    There is so much to practice with diminished scales that it is endless because of the symmetrical shape based on minor thirds.

    Check out some Mike Stern solos with Miles to hear them :)

    I also like to use the diminished w-h when the dominant chord resolve to a major chord like this: G7(b9)-CMaj7. The scale implies a G13(b9) over the dominant which gives enough spice to it ;-)
  5. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    A+ JB!
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Interesting , I know harmonizing the 7 tone Major and (Harmonic ) Minor scales pretty well, but never thought about harmonizing the diminished scale.
    C7(b9)		I 7(b9)
    Dbdim7 		bii dim7
    Eb7(b9)		biii 7(b9)
    Edim7		iii dim7
    Gb7(b9) 	bV 7(b9)
    Gdim7   	V dim7
    A7(b9)  	VI 7b9
    Bbdim7  	bvii dim7
    I had been taught that because of symmetry, any dim7 chord is enharmonic to the same dim chord a minor third away.
    Does the same hold true for the 7(b9) chords?

    Looking at the chord tones for those:
    C	E	G	Bb	Db
    Eb	G	Bb	Db	Fb(E)
    Gb	B	Db	Fb(E)	Ab(G)
    A	C#(Db)	E	G	Bb
    unless I made a mistake, They are all Identical tones except the root note.
    I recall once reading that you can substitue a Dominant 7th chord with the Dom 7 chord a minor third away, I guess this is why.
  7. dtiii


    Apr 22, 2009
    Yes. I learned it as the diminished cycle. It explains some of the dominant chord motion found in standards. The two most common probably being a whole step below goal and a half step above, the latter aka b5 sub.
  8. dtiii


    Apr 22, 2009
    ps... There are also multiple ways to harmonize some of the scale tones from a diminished scale. For example, the first, third, fifth, and seventh note of the half-whole pattern can be harmonized with a major, minor, and diminished triad. I guess it's up to the user to be convincing if this type of application is used.
  9. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    It sort of makes sense considering so each tone in the scale has a half step tone next to it. But then you are no longer strictly 'staking thirds' at that point.

    Honestly I doubt there is much useful Harmonic motion to found here - in terms of coming up with an appealing set of chord changes. I doesn't quite contain the usual V-I tonal cadence. But it does seem useful for exploring some interesting substitutions.

    I wonder if whole tone scales / augmented chords have similar implications.
  10. dtiii


    Apr 22, 2009
    The thirds are there through enharmonic respellings.

    I'm pretty sure octatonic scales start being used as such in the latter part of the Romantic period into the 20th century. Post tonal composers definitely made use of them as a harmonic resource... Bartok, et al. At that point, V-I isn't on the agenda.

    Again... post tonal. Here's a good reference:

    Here is one on octatonic scale recently written by a colleague of mine:
  11. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    That may interest some people but I warn you : it is some technical death metal by Jon Jarzombek fomr Blotted Science.

    But his kind of stuff leads to 12 tones system and serial music ( like the last CD from Blotted Science is made of many serie of note )

  12. davidhilton

    davidhilton Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 13, 2009
    Los Angeles, CA
    Hey mambo, diminished stuff is really fun. I love the sound of the symmetrical diminished on certain chords, Dominant*chords, diminished chords, even minor chords, really fun stuff. you can even take the harmonization of the symmetrical diminished out farther. my ear has grown to like certain shapes and certain sounds it's great. check this out: you could build a C7b9 natural 13, C7b5, c-7, c-7b5, c-6, and cdim7... all built from the C half-whole scale. many of those shapes may just be for academic fun facts, but fun to explore and*check out...see if your ear actually likes those shapes. of course since the symmetrical diminish scale is symmetrical you can play all those*same chords on C, Eb, F#(Gb), and A. my approach to playing over changes with the*symmetrical diminished is much more simple. my ear likes the sound of starting a whole-half scale on the b7, b9, 3, and 5. that way I get the #9 sound in there which I really dig. let's say ur playin a C7 to an Fmaj7,*try starting the whole-half scale on the b7( Bb)...start the line on the end of one and resolve it to the A (maj 3rd) of the Fmaj7 on beat 1.*also a lot of times over diminished chord I'll actually drop down halfstep and play a dom b9 arp- with the b9 on the bottom and the top....
    all fun stuff... hit me up if You have any*questions maybe I can make your video or something laterz- d
  13. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    One thing I noticed a long time ago is that some of the typical "funk" language can be interpreted in terms of the half-whole diminished scale. You get the minor 3rd going to the major 3rd, the flatted 5th going to the perfect 5th, and the major 6th going to the minor 7th. You even get a flat 9th if you want to get jazzy.

    Sometimes, when soloing over a dominant 7th chord, I like to take it "outside" by superimposing a diminished arpeggio in my mind and then stepping through the minor 3rds with angular yet parallel patterns.

    One of the wonderful things about diminished scales is you can get pretty strange with them, but because of the mathematical regularity of the scale, the ear picks up on the patterns and it doesn't sound overly dissonant. At least not to me.

    Worthy of further investigation: the classical music of Olivier Messiaen. He created several scales that, like the diminished scale and the whole tone scale, occur in regular, repeating patterns of whole and half steps. He called them "modes of limited transposition".
  14. KBlam


    Jan 20, 2007
    San Francisco, CA
    Cool thread guys, I dig it and appreciate the knowledge shared on here! My question is, let's say you're soloing or vamping on a dominant 7 chord (or a minor 7 chord) and you want to inject some of that "out" diminished flavor with one of these runs. Where in the scale of the 7 chord would you begin the diminished run/pattern? Would you start it on the tonic, the b5, a half step below or above the I...? I'm just wondering how to implement this sound in more typical funk/soul/blues/rock that has pretty basic harmony and changes.
  15. You can use the half-whole diminished scale starting on the root of the dom 7 chord:
    C7 - Use C half-whole diminished.


    I've bracketed the notes of the chord.

    You can see the scale as a bunch of alterations and melodic embellishments around the notes of a dominant 7. The b2 and #2 are the b9 and #9 extensions so you get the altered sound right from the start. The #2 (#9) can also be used for the bluesy minor 3rd to major 3rd sound. The #11 can be used as a cool chromatic lead into the 5th. Then the 6 and b7 have the basic Mixolydian/Dorian sound to them.
    Of course each note can also be used for general phrase cadences which gives more of the brutal, diminished modal feel. eg. land on a b2 or #4 and milk it!

    There are a few cool melodic ideas you can get by repeating interval sequences at a minor 3rd or tritone. As an example, over C7 have a look at the pattern of C,Db,Eb then F#,G,A then C,Db,Eb etc. Because of the symmetrical nature of the scale you can have fun with loads of these melodic fragments.

    Also remember there are two diminished arpeggios in the scale, a semitone apart.
    So over C7 you can use C dim and C# dim arpeggios. There are dim arpeggios on every note of the scale but I outlined these two to give an idea of how you can move up a semitone for phrasing ideas.
    The diminished arpeggio on the b2, 3,5 and b7 degrees is the same diminished arpeggio used by players to imply the sound of a C7b9.

    I'd recommend playing over a dominant 7 vamp and improvising with a standard dominant 7 arpeggio, mixolydian scale and blues scale then incorporating the diminished scale notes as basic embellishments of the dominant 7 chord while keeping the standard bluesy 7 sound (what you seemed to be after).
    Then try to exploiting the diminished sound to give you more of an altered or out sound. It's worth remembering that when you use this as a scale in it's own right for only a brief time you can just as easily think of chromatic passing notes and neighbour (auxiliary) tones in order to get the same effect and more without thinking in terms of a limiting scale framework. The diminished arpeggios within the scale probably carry more melodic exclusivity. Sorry if that sounds a bit heavy.
  16. To clarify what I just put at the end of the last post. If I play C, Eb, E and then maybe F#, G and then Db to C. It's possible to see that as using a diminished scale. Or it can be analysed as another form of scale or as basic chromatic neighbour notes leading into the chord tones: b3 to 3, #4 to 5, b2 to 1. There are many ways of analysing what is, in reality, just dissonances around consonant chord tones.

    When I say the dim arpeggios carry more melodic exclusivity I mean that if you blast up a C or C# diminished arpeggio over a C7 then you can definitively point out implied diminished harmony.

    It's all just a matter of how we analyse something as opposed to what the player might have been thinking at the time. Just in case anyone was confused by that final statement.
  17. This is why I say the diminished scale as a way of improvising around a dom 7 chord can be viewed more easily as melodic embellishments and devices and not as a standalone scale. It's the same principle as viewing the Superlocrian/Altered/Melodic Minor/Jazz Minor scale as a way of playing 'out'. It works well because of how all the altered extensions are present but you can also view those same lines as chord extensions or chromatic passing notes etc.

    When you look at the tonic chord of a diminished scale it actually works out more traditionally as a diminished triad and dim7 chord.

    When we play a minor 3rd to a major 3rd for the 'bluesy' vibe over a 7 chord, we don't commonly think in terms of a scale. I know there are bebop and major blues scales that address this but it's kind of pointless since that b3 to 3 movement is simply a melodic device on it's own. Creating scales to address all this chromatic embellishments just complicates matters imho.

    That said. Each to their own and it's always worth remembering that what a improviser was thinking is very different from how another person will analyse. One player might just be taken by some pattern looking pretty and reminding them of a bracelet they bought for a loved one. It just so happens that it works and sounds cool. Another player might analyse that lick relative to chord tones. Another player might analyse it in terms of a scale. Another player might employ Schenkerian analysis etc. etc.