Diminished Scales and Sample Lines
Diminished scales consist of eight notes and are constructed from alternating half-step and whole step intervals. There are two forms of diminished scale; one form begins with a whole-step followed by a half-step and the other begins with a half step followed by a whole-step. Due to their interval construction, Diminished scales are also referred to as symmetrical scales.
I’m not going to go into detail here about the construction and harmonisation of diminished scales, (which I’ll likely cover later in another lesson) but rather focus on getting some lines under your fingers. If diminished scales are new to you, perhaps explore the theory behind the scales alongside learning these lines. Here is a useful resource for you on the construction and history of diminished scales that you might find helpful.
From the perspective of an improviser, diminished scales provide a useful melodic resource for creating angular sounding lines. These can be very useful for creating ‘outside’ sounding melodies, which are often used to suggest different tonalities, moving away from the more predictable diatonic scales and arpeggios.
In this short lesson I am going to give you some sample jazz lines/patterns which you should be able to successfully incorporate into your playing with a little practice and study of their musical application.
I have chosen to use the half-whole form of diminished scale for all these examples and if you are new to symmetrical scales then the following lines may help get the sound under your fingers and more importantly, into your ears.
Playing Diminished Scales/Patterns
As the diminished scales are comprised of eight (rather than seven) notes, some guitarists do occasionally struggle a little with finding good fingerboard positions for them, so I have included some tab suggestions within the example lines. These are very subjective however and you may want to experiment a little to find your own pathway with learning diminished scale lines on the fingerboard.
To get you started, here are two ways you could finger the half-whole version of the diminished scale. The accompanying chord illustrated here is a C13b9 chord which is a common chord for the scale to be employed over.
H/W Diminished Scale formula and some harmonic applications for the lines
The following diminished scale lines (see the PDF file below) can be played over a number of different chord types, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
C7b9, C7#9, C13b9, C13b9#11, A/C, Db dim7, E dim7. G dim7, Bb dim7 etc.
Now here are the sample lines for the H/W diminished scale.
Here are all the diminished scale lines played via MIDI piano for you so that you can hear them clearly:
Take your time learning the lines and try to analyse their construction as you work on them. This will help you in creating your own diminished lines and remember too that they can be modified considerably by adding some rhythmic variety to them. I have written them without any variations in rhythm just to make them easier to learn, but you can (and should) employ some rhythmic changes to personalise them for your own playing style.
Enjoy these learning and playing these diminished scale lines for guitar and I’ll see you next time.