How to Play Diminished Scales on Guitar
In today’s lesson I will explain how to play the diminished scale on guitar by looking at two the most commonly used shapes: whole-half and half-whole. When learning to play jazz guitar, one chord type that usually gets neglected by guitarists is the diminished chord and it’s scales, so hopefully this article will prove to be a useful resource.
In this lesson I explain how you can play the two main kinds of diminished scales; whole half and half whole, but before looking at diminished scales, an understanding of diminished arpeggios must first be established.
Like major, minor and dominant 7th arpeggios, diminished arpeggios consist of four notes that are a minor 3rd apart. Because of this construction the last note of the arpeggio is referred to as a double flat.
Diminished Arpeggio Formula: R, b3, b5, bb7
C Diminished 7 Arpeggio Notes: C, Eb, Gb, A
Due to the fact that each note in a diminished arpeggio is a minor 3rd apart, any note can function as the root.
For example the notes in a C diminished 7th arpeggio are C, Eb, Gb, and A which means that this arpeggio could be see as also being Eb, Gb and A diminished 7th arpeggios.
Because of this symmetrical construction, guitarists only need to learn one fingering for each string set that can be moved up and down the neck as shown below.
Whole-Half Diminished Scale
Now that we have an understanding of how diminished arpeggios work, let’s check out the first diminished scale, the whole-half diminished scale.
The reason the diminished scale is called ‘Whole-Half’ is because each note of the scale moves a whole step then a half step, or two frets then one as seen in the diagram below the formula.
When working out a scale using this formula, I recommend learning the notes and construction on one string first. For more informaiton about learning scales, check out this article.
W-H Diminished Scale Formula: R, 2nd, b3rd, 4th, b5th, b6th, 6th, 7th
C W-H Diminished Scale Notes: C, D, Eb, F, G#, A, B
A great method you can use to form the Whole-Half Diminished Scale is to approach each note of a diminished arpeggio from a semi-tone or fret below as seen in the diagram below this text.
Whole-half diminished scales are typically used to improvise over diminished chords. Whole-half diminished scales contain a major 7th, so you can use them to improvise over diminished major 7th chords too.
The lick below is a common H-W diminished scale pattern that can be used over diminished chords.
Half-Whole Diminished Scale
The second diminished scale that jazz guitarists need to know is the half-whole diminished scale.
80% of the time diminished chords function as dominant 7b9 chords within jazz standards like in bar 3 of ‘How Insensitive’ or bar 10 of ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’.
Both of these examples are perfect opportunities to use the half-whole diminished scale because it contains the 3rd, b7th and b9th of the chord.
H-W Diminished Scale Formula: R, b2nd, b3rd, 3rd, b5th, 5th, 6th, b7th
C H-W Scale Notes: C, Dd, Eb, E, F#, G, A, Bb
The first half-whole diminished lick shows how you can see a diminished chord as being a dominant 7b9 in a functioning dominant situation.
Although I have written Edim7 in the first bar, it could have being written as Dbdim7, Gdim7, or Bbdim7, but I decided to use Edim7 to have chromatic bass movement.
To conclude the study of the half-whole diminished scale let’s check out a common minor ii-V pattern found within the half whole diminished scale that was used by John Coltrane.
For further study of the half-whole diminished scale, check out the chords and triads that can be formed within it.
I hope that you found this introduction to diminished scales useful. Diminished harmony, chords, and scales are a big topic, but I hope that this article helps you get each diminished scale under your fingers. What are your thoughts on the diminished scale? Share your comments below.