Modern The­ory

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

In this is­sue, we’re tak­ing a look at the di­min­ished scale. The di­min­ished scale is an oc­ta­tonic scale which con­tains eight notes, un­like the seven notes we usu­ally use when play­ing the ma­jor or mi­nor scale. A di­min­ished scale is de­rived from a pat­tern of half and whole steps; the dis­tance of one or two frets on the gui­tar. The di­min­ished scale can start with a half step fol­lowed by a whole step, or vice versa. These two oc­ta­tonic pat­terns have dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions, and in this is­sue, we will fo­cus on the more com­mon pat­tern of a half step fol­lowed by a whole step.

The half-whole di­min­ished scale is used to solo over dom­i­nant sev­enth chords. Be­cause it is most of­ten used for that pur­pose, it is also re­ferred to as the dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale. Be­ing a non-di­a­tonic scale, it con­tains a lot of ten­sion, mak­ing it a great scale to use as long as you prac­tise it enough to know how to re­solve that ten­sion when re­quired. The dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale is also a great scale to write riffs with, es­pe­cially if you make use of the two tri-tones – those are per­fect for metal riffs. You will find the dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale used in all styles of mu­sic, from rhythm and blues to jazz and metal.

I want to fo­cus on its use as a tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise, and how it can be used to write riffs that sound darker and more tense than what can be de­rived from the ma­jor scale and its modes.


Ex­er­cise #1 out­lines an as­cend­ing one-oc­tave pat­tern of the dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale. This pat­tern may re­quire a po­si­tion shift, given that is has four notes per string. Some play­ers pre­fer to fret the four notes, but you’ll need ex­cep­tion­ally long fin­gers for that. I rec­om­mend play­ing just the first four notes on the E string un­til you work out what po­si­tion shift works best for you. I pre­fer to shift up one fret with my first fin­ger, as it gets me ready to shift over to the next string. Once you have your pre­ferred po­si­tion shift sorted, it’s just a mat­ter of re­peat­ing that shift one fret higher on the A string.

As al­ways, play with a click un­til you cre­ate a mus­cle mem­ory. Get­ting this pat­tern down as one oc­tave will make it easy to use over chord changes. I set up an iTunes playlist with one minute worth of metronome clicks that in­crease by ten beats per minute (bpm) with each new track. Start slow at 60bpm, and see if you can move up to 180bpm. Do this for a few days, and you should be able to do it in your sleep.


Ex­er­cise #2 out­lines an as­cend­ing and de­scend­ing se­quenced pat­tern of the dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale. This is a great pat­tern, as it is very lin­ear with how it is fin­gered and it dou­bles as a great tech­ni­cal speed ex­er­cise. I fin­ger the last four eighth notes of each bar as my first, sec­ond, third and pinky fin­gers. At speed, this pat­tern is a great warmup ex­er­cise. Try build­ing up speed on the first bar un­til you have it well and truly un­der your fin­gers, and then play the pat­tern as it is writ­ten.


The best thing about di­min­ished scales is that you can re­peat the same pat­tern a mi­nor third higher or lower, and you’ll end up with the same notes ap­pear­ing in a dif­fer­ent or­der. Ex­er­cise #3 out­lines a onebar pat­tern that shifts up a mi­nor third every two beats. This 16th note pat­tern flies by at 120bpm, but it’s a great tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise and very use­ful when you write a riff us­ing the dom­i­nant di­min­ished scale. Come up with your own riffs or tech­ni­cal pat­terns, and see how they sound when you shift them up or down by mi­nor thirds. Hope­fully, you can see the po­ten­tial of this oc­to­tonic scale in adding a non­di­a­tonic colour to your play­ing.

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