Mod­ern The­ory

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

Last is­sue, we took a look at the dom­i­nant, or half-whole tone di­min­ished scale. Di­min­ished scales con­tain eight notes per oc­tave, un­like the di­a­tonic ma­jor and mi­nor scales most com­monly used in western mu­sic. This octatonic scale is de­rived from a pat­tern of half and whole steps, the dis­tance of one or two frets apart on the gui­tar. Di­min­ished scales can start with a half fol­lowed by a whole step, or a whole fol­lowed by a half step be­fore ar­riv­ing at the tonic again. Th­ese two octatonic pat­terns have dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions.

The di­min­ished scale is used in jazz to solo over dom­i­nant sev­enth chords and their ex­ten­sions (for ex­am­ple, b9, #9 and 13). The rea­son this works is be­cause th­ese chords are of­ten built of mi­nor third in­ter­vals, and the di­min­ished scale con­tains four mi­nor third in­ter­vals per oc­tave. The dom­i­nant di­min­ished or half-whole di­min­ished scale con­tains both a ma­jor and mi­nor third, mak­ing it per­fect for use over dom­i­nant chords, as they con­tain a ma­jor third and flat seven. The whole-half di­min­ished scale doesn’t con­tain a ma­jor third, but it still works when writ­ing riffs, es­pe­cially if you make use of the two tri­tones – they are per­fect for riffs that re­quire ten­sion. I want to fo­cus on its use as a tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise, and how it can be used to write riffs that sound darker and tenser than what can be de­rived from the ma­jor scale and its modes.


Ex­er­cise #1 out­lines an as­cend­ing one-oc­tave pat­tern of the whole-half tone di­min­ished scale start­ing on G. I be­lieve po­si­tion shifts are cru­cial in get­ting this scale un­der your fin­gers fast. On the A string, I shift up a po­si­tion with my first fin­ger be­tween the C nat­u­ral and C sharp. I also shift with my first fin­ger on the D string, be­tween the F sharp and G nat­u­ral. The sec­ond po­si­tion shift isn’t nec­es­sary in the one-oc­tave pat­tern, but this will make it eas­ier to tran­si­tion into the two-oc­tave pat­tern. This helps keep the pat­tern lin­ear and easy to re­mem­ber. When­ever I have a new pat­tern to mem­o­rise, I also play the pat­tern chro­mat­i­cally up and down the neck. Start with a slow tempo and push it up un­til you can no longer play it cleanly, then you will know your tar­get tempo. Ev­ery time you prac­tise, try to push your­self a lit­tle past this speed. Over time, you should see an im­prove­ment in your play­ing.


Ex­er­cise two out­lines an as­cend­ing and de­scend­ing two-oc­tave pat­tern of the whole-half tone di­min­ished scale. I have added an anacru­sis, or pick-up note, which is also a po­si­tion shift. As you play across the strings, shift up one po­si­tion with your first fin­ger each time you change strings – ex­cept for the change be­tween the G and B strings. To play the two-oc­tave pat­tern, I use my sec­ond and third fin­gers to play the F# and G nat­u­ral. This will make it faster when you de­scend. If you want to con­tinue up an oc­tave, then fol­low the same first-fin­ger po­si­tion shift pat­tern and slide up on the high E string. At speed, this pat­tern is a great warm-up ex­er­cise. Try build­ing up speed on the first bar un­til you have it well and truly un­der your fin­gers, 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 will get the same notes ap­pear­ing in a dif­fer­ent or­der. Ex­er­cise #3 out­lines a one-bar pat­tern that shifts up a mi­nor third ev­ery two beats. This 16th note pat­tern flies by at 120 beats per minute (BPM), but it is 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 octatonic scale in adding a non-di­a­tonic as­pect to your play­ing.

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