Diminished scales in jazz improvisation

Please answer the folllowing questions about dmimished scales.

  1. What are diminished scales and what problem do they solve?
  2. How are diminished scales used in jazz improvisation?
  3. Please show examples of chord progressions over which diminished scales might be used in jazz improvisation.
  4. What are some daily routines that a saxophonist can perform to master using diminished scales in jazz improvisation?

Diminished scales are a unique and versatile tool in music theory, especially useful in jazz improvisation. Let's explore your questions one by one to give you a comprehensive understanding.

What are Diminished Scales and What Problem Do They Solve?

Diminished scales are symmetrical scales that alternate between whole steps and half steps (or vice versa), resulting in two distinct forms: the Whole-Half Diminished Scale and the Half-Whole Diminished Scale. The Whole-Half is used over diminished 7th chords (o7), while the Half-Whole is applied over dominant 7th chords with a diminished 5th (7b5), and also over 7(b9) chords due to its symmetrical structure.

The problem diminished scales solve is providing a cohesive and harmonically rich palette of notes that can be used over complex chord changes, particularly in jazz and classical music. Their symmetrical nature allows for easy modulation and transposition, offering a solution for improvising over chords that might not fit neatly into diatonic (major or minor scale-based) harmony.

How are Diminished Scales Used in Jazz Improvisation?

In jazz improvisation, diminished scales are used to create tension, add color, and navigate chord changes with more flexibility. They allow musicians to play "outside" (notes not traditionally within the chord or key being played) in a way that still sounds musically coherent. The scales provide a rich source of altered notes and passing tones, which can make solos more interesting and dynamic.

Examples of Chord Progressions

Here are some examples of chord progressions where diminished scales might be used in jazz improvisation:

  1. Over a Diminished 7th Chord Progression: For a progression like Cdim7 to Ddim7, you can use the C Whole-Half Diminished Scale over the Cdim7 and move to the D Whole-Half Diminished Scale for the Ddim7.

  2. Dominant 7th Chords Resolving to a Minor Chord: In a progression like G7(b9) resolving to Cm, you can use the G Half-Whole Diminished Scale over the G7(b9) to create tension before resolving to the C minor scale.

  3. ii-V-I Progression with a Twist: In a standard ii-V-I progression in C (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7), you can substitute G7 with G7(b9) and use the G Half-Whole Diminished Scale over the G7(b9) before resolving to C major.

Daily Routines for Mastering Diminished Scales on Saxophone

  1. Scale Practice: Start by practicing the diminished scales (both Whole-Half and Half-Whole) slowly, ensuring accurate intonation and evenness in your playing. Gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable.

  2. Arpeggios and Patterns: Practice arpeggios derived from diminished scales, as well as common jazz patterns, to build dexterity and familiarity with how these scales map onto your instrument.

  3. Transposition: Because of their symmetrical structure, practicing diminished scales in all keys is straightforward. Work on transposing patterns and licks you've learned in one key to other keys using the diminished scale.

  4. Apply to Chord Progressions: Practice improvising over backing tracks or with a metronome over chord progressions that lend themselves to diminished scale usage. Focus on how the scale fits over each chord and practice resolving tension created by the diminished scale into consonance.

  5. Listening and Transcription: Listen to jazz greats who masterfully use diminished scales in their improvisation. Transcribe their solos to understand how they incorporate diminished scales into their playing.

Incorporating these routines into your daily practice will not only improve your technical ability to play diminished scales but will also deepen your understanding of how they can be creatively used in jazz improvisation.


You should also read:

Bb scales

1 flat: Bb Lydian: Bb, C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb 2 flats: Bb Ionian: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A,…