In the first of a new series Pete Callard unlocks the secrets of the diminished scale, used by jazzy players from Robben Ford to Django Reinhardt.
Pete Callard shows what the surprisingly versatile diminished scale cando.
as an octatonic scale due to the fact that it is made up of eight notes (octa meaning eight, in the same way the pentatonic scale contains five notes - penta meaning five). The diminished scale is created by moving up in alternating tones and semitones, creating what’s known as a symmetric scale (see Example 1 and Diagram 1), leaving us with the formula 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, bb7, 7. Because of this specific tone, semitone construction there are only two shapes of the diminished scale, the first one starting with a whole step, and the second starting with a half step, the interval formula for which is 1, b2, b3, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7 (see Example 2). If we start from the third note of the scale, we are left with exactly the same scale as from the first note, and starting from the fourth note gives us the same notes as starting from the second note...etc. As well as only two shapes, this also means that there are only three different diminished scales - if we start on C, we can also have C#/Db diminished scale and D diminished scale, but then D#/Eb diminished scale is the same as C diminished scale, and E diminished scale is the same as C#/Db diminished scale... and so on.
The first step in using any new scale is to find out what chords it will work over, and to do this we need to harmonise the scale (build
The diminished scale is far more versatile than its reputation might suggest.
a 7th chord from it by taking the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the scale). Harmonising the diminished scale we get the intervals 1, b3, b5, bb7, which gives us, perhaps unsurprisingly, a diminished 7th chord (see Examples 3 and 4, and Diagram 2). Interestingly, if we harmonise the second mode of the diminished, generally referred to as half step, whole step (or half, whole) diminished, we get the same intervals, meaning both scales work over a diminished 7th chord (Example 5). This also means that the diminished scale can be seen as being built from two diminished 7th chords a whole step apart.
Another interesting aspect of diminished 7th chords is that, as each interval is equidistant (a b3rd apart), any one of them can be considered the root note - so Adim7 can also be seen as Cdim7, Ebdim7 and F#dim7, as they all contain exactly the same notes, and each of those chords could equally be seen as Adim7. Thus, any time we play a diminished 7th chord we can use any of the four notes as the root, and move it up or down in minor 3rds, as demonstrated in Example 6.
Getting familiar with a new scale can take time, so one way to help you get the sound of the diminished into your playing more easily is with arpeggios. Examples 7 and 8 and Diagram 3 demonstrate diminished 7th arpeggio shapes.
Remember, as with the chords, all of the intervals are equidistant so diminished arpeggios can also be moved up in b3rds. Examples 9 and 10 feature examples of this from the real world with, in a rare gypsy jazz/ neo-classical metal crossover, licks from Django Reinhardt and Yngwie Malmsteen! The remaining examples feature Scott Henderson and John Scofield lines demonstrating the diminished scale in action. We’ll be delving deeper into the jazz applications of the diminished next time, so I hope you’ll join me then.
Scott Henderson: impressive user of the diminished