How To Use Diminished Scales

This guitar lesson explains how to use diminished scales in improvisation, and includes an example guitar solo plus a backing track so you can solo with diminished scales yourself. For more information on diminished scales, see this page: Diminished Scale GuitarDiminished scales are most often used in jazz improvisation, although of course they do also occur in other improvised musical forms.

Guitar Music Theory

Diminished Scale Theory

Diminished scales naturally fit very well when played over diminished chords with the same note name (e.g. a G diminished scale can be played over a G diminished chord). Because each diminished scale is in effect four scales in one, either B flat, D flat or E diminished scales can also be played over a G diminished chord. Each of these scales contains exactly the same notes.

However, the reason diminished scales are used so frequently in jazz improvisation is because they produce tensions when played over dominant seventh chords. Put simply, tensions are notes which create interesting melodic effects, and playing tensions gives phrases a jazz sound. To use a diminished scale over a seventh chord, the diminished scale with a root one semitone higher than the root of the seventh chord is used (e.g. an A flat diminished scale over a G7 chord).

A G7 chord contains the following notes: G, B, D, F

An Ab diminished scale contains the following notes: Ab, Bb, B, Db, D, E, F, G

The Ab creates the flattened nine tension, the Bb the sharp nine and the Db is the flat five of a G seventh chord.

Guitar Playing ExampleExample Solo Using Diminished Scale

This example solo highlights the interesting sounds that can be produced by soloing with a diminished scale over a dominant seventh chord. The example is played over the following chord sequence:

improvisation with diminished scale
Improvisation With Diminished Scale Chord Sequence

An F sharp diminished scale is used over the F sharp diminished chord, and a C sharp diminished scale is played over the C7 chord in the fourth bar (the 'alt' means that the chord could potentially contain altered notes such as a sharp or flat five or nine)

Example Of Improvisation With Diminished Scale

Guitar Backing Track Play Along

Diminished Scale Backing Track

Experiment by incorporating the diminished scale in your own solos. You can use the shapes shown here: Diminished Scale Guitar. The following backing track uses the same chord sequence as the above example. The diminished scale can sound quite odd at first, but persevere, and you'll get a feel for when the tensions it produces will work. You'll also start to notice it being used in much contemporary jazz.

Backing Track For Improvising With Diminished Scales

Related Pages

Diminished Scale Guitar

Altered Scale

Guitar Scales Chart

4 thoughts on “How To Use Diminished Scales”

  1. Hello, I understand the use of the diminished scale in a jazz setting as you stated, but I also enjoy composing in a classical format. I was wondering if you can shed some light as to how I may use this knowledge in a classical setting. Sorry for asking this on a jazz site, but I have searched far and wide and have not found anything except how to use the diminished arpeggio with hardly anything on the scale. If you have no knowledge of this I appreciate your time and thank you for the post…

  2. Hi, I get the full diminished scale and how it can play over a dom chord but what’s confusing me is that progression you gave as an example. You go FMaj7, F#dim, Gm7, C7: It doesn’t make sense to me because of the F#dim chord. If you’re in the key of F then 7th step should be E half dim or Em7b5. I thought that you could only use a dim7 chord in a harmonic minor key. If that’s what your doing then it would be in G harmonic minor, but wouldn’t include an Fmaj7. So what key are you working out of for that progression. Please help me see how those chords fit in a key.

    in C the patten goes C, dmin, e min, F, G7, a min, b half dim, C

    in the relative minor which is a it would be a min, b half dim or bm7b5, Cmaj, d min, E7, F, G, a min

    and in harmonic minor it would be a min, b half dim or bm7b5, Cmaj, d min, E7, F, G#dim7, a min

    Please help me understand how you are coming up with this progression. Thanks.

    • Hi Christian,

      Good question. The basic answer is that the F# diminished chord is non-diatonic. Not every chord in a progression is necessarily diatonic.

      The slightly more complex answer is that the F# diminished chord is actually a substitution for a vi chord.

      The example progression is actually based on the very common I vi ii V7 progression.

      The vi chord is often substituted for a VI7, making the progression:
      | Fmaj7 | D7 | Gm7 | C7 |

      In the example progression the F#dim is used instead of the D7: basically a small, further chord substitution.

      The F#dim is essentially the same chord as a D#dim, so you are doing the same thing with the chords as you are doing when you play a diminished scale a semitone higher than the dominant chord.

      I hope this helps.


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