How to Play The Diminished Scale [Dim7 and 7b9]
One of the most popular symmetrical scales on guitar, the diminished scale is an 8-note scale that is built by alternating whole and half steps from any root note.
There are two versions of the diminished scale that are commonly used in modern music, the fully diminished and dominant diminished scales.
Though they share a name, each diminished scale is used to outline different chords in your solos.
The dominant diminished scale is used to solo over 7th chords, and the fully diminished scale is used to solo over dim7 chords.
As well, each diminished scale uses a different combination of whole and half steps in it’s construction.
The fully diminished scale is built by alternating whole and half steps, while the dominant diminished scale alternates half and whole steps.
Each diminished scale brings a unique sound to both dim7 and 7th chords in your improvised solos.
And both are essential learning for any advancing guitarist.
In this lesson, you’ll study diminished scale construction, how to apply this scale to both dim7 and 7b9 chords in your solos, and learn classic diminished scale licks over popular chord progressions.
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Whole Half Diminished Scale – Dim7 Chords
The first octatonic scale (8-note scale) that you’ll learn in this lesson is the whole half diminished scale, which is used to solo over Dim7 chords.
The whole half diminished scale is used less often than the half whole diminished scale, mostly because dominant chords appear more frequently than diminished chords in modern music.
Often called the “fully diminished scale,” the whole half diminished scale is built by alternating whole and half steps from any root note.
Hence the name, whole half diminished scale.
This scale is used to solo over Dim7 chords, and DimMaj7 chords if you ever have the occasion to see that chord in a song.
When alternating whole and half steps from a root note, you produce the interval pattern for any fully diminished scale.
R 2 b3 4 b5 #5 6 7
Or, if you’re playing a G fully diminished scale the notes would be.
G A Bb C Db D# E F#
As you can see, the fully diminished scale has 8 notes.
Because of this, you’ll sometimes have to mix #’s and b’s when writing out fully diminished scales.
As well, you’ll have to use a letter name twice when writing out any fully diminished scale, which you wouldn’t when learning modes, as they contain 7 notes, one per letter name in the musical alphabet.
Fully Diminished Scale – One Octave
Now that you know how to build the fully diminished scale, you’re ready to take this scale to the fretboard.
Here are 12, one-octave fully diminished scale shapes that you can learn in the given key of C diminished.
When you’re ready, you can then take this scale to every key in your guitar practice routine.
Learning one-octave fully diminished scale shapes will allow you to apply this scale to fast moving chord progressions.
When chords move by at a fast tempo, or more than one chord per bar, larger scale shapes are too bulky to use in your guitar solos.
When that happens, one-octave fully diminished scale shapes come to the rescue.
Here are four fully diminished scale shapes beginning with your index finger.
Learn each shape from memory, then put on the Cdim7 jam track and practice soloing over that chord with these scales to take them into your guitar soloing practice routine.
Cdim7 Backing Track cdim7 backing track
Moving on, here are four fully diminished scale shapes starting with your middle finger on the first note of each scale.
The only exception to this fingering system is the last shape, which starts on your index finger.
Lastly, here are four fully diminished scale shapes that begin with your pinky finger.
Once you have checked out each of these 12 fingerings, don’t worry if you can’t play them all from memory.
Pick a few to focus on for now that sit nicely under your fingers and use them in your solos.
Over time you can add more fingerings as you expand your knowledge of the fully diminished scale on the fretboard.
After studying these fingerings, don’t get caught up only running them with a metronome in your practicing.
Learning how to use the fully diminished scale in your solos is an important tool when mastering this diminished scale on guitar.
So, after learning any fingering from memory, put on the jam track and use that fingering to build lines over the Cdim7 chord.
From there, take that scale to your solos over other dim7 chords, chord progressions, and full songs in your studies.
Fully Diminished Scale – Two Octave
You’ll now move on to learning two-octave fully diminished scale shapes.
These larger scale shapes are useful when soloing over slower tunes and chord progressions that have more than one bar per chord.
As always, learn any of these fully diminished scale shapes from memory first.
Then jam with that scale over the Cdim7 backing track as you work this scale from a soloing perspective in your routine.
Cdim7 Backing Track cdim7 backing track
Once you have these two-octave Whole Half Diminished Scale shapes under your fingers mix them together with the one-octave shapes in order to get the full picture of how to play the this across the fretboard.
Move back and forth between one and two-octave fully diminished scales in your solos to visualize and hear how these shapes can be used in different musical situations on the fretboard.
Fully Diminished Scale Licks
One of the best ways to learn a new scale is to study essential vocabulary for that particular scale.
To help you do just that, here are three fully diminished scale licks that you can learn and apply to your improvised guitar solos.
The first lick is played over a two-bar Gdim7 chord, and uses the G fully diminished scale over that entire chord.
Click to hear whole half diminished scales 1
Next, you’ll apply the G Whole Half Diminished Scale to the bIIIdim7 chord in a turnaround chord progression in the key of G.
Click to hear whole half diminished scales 2
Lastly, here’s the G# Whole Half Diminished Scales applied to the #Idim7 chord in a G turnaround chord progression.
Click to hear whole half diminished scales 3
Once you’ve learned these three fully diminished scale licks, write out 3 to 5 of your own lines as you expand upon this scale in your soloing practice routine.
Half Whole Diminished Scale – 7b9 Chords
The more popular of the two diminished scales in modern music, the half whole diminished scale is used to solo over dominant chords when you want to bring a 13b9 sound to your guitar solos.
As dominant chords occur more in popular music genres, such as Jazz, Rock, and Fusion, you’ll see this scale pop up in your playing more often than the fully diminished scale.
Because it’s used to solo over dominant chords, this scale is often called the “dominant diminished scale.”
As the name suggests, the dominant diminished scale is built by alternating half and whole steps from any root note.
When doing so, you build the following interval pattern.
R b2 b3 3 #4 5 6 b7
Or, from a C root note the dominant diminished scale would be.
C Db Eb E F# G A Bb
Notice that you are creating a good amount of tension when using the dominant diminished scale when soloing over 7th chords.
As you progress in your improvising with this scale, the biggest challenge you’ll face is resolving that tension.
Make sure this is a priority in your dominant diminished scale practice, as it’ll mean the difference between success and failure when using this scale in your guitar solos.
As was the case with the fully diminished scale, you’ll sometimes mix sharps and flats when writing this scale out, and have to use a note name twice with this 8-note scale.
Though they share a name, each diminished scale has a unique sound all it’s own.
To help your ears get used to these two diminished scale sounds, once you can play one dominant diminished scale shape, play it back to back with a fully diminished scale to hear how they compare on the fretboard.
Dominant Diminished Scale – One Octave
Now that you know how to build the dominant diminished scales, you’re ready to work this scale out on the fretboard.
To begin, here are one-octave dominant diminished scale shapes that you can learn in the given key, C,
Then when you feel confident in that initial key, you can move on to all 12 keys in your practice routine.
As was the case with the fully diminished scale, these small scale shapes are ideal when soloing over fast-moving chord progressions.
To get started, here are four dominant diminished scale shapes beginning with your index finger.
Once you can play any of these shapes from memory, jam with them over the C7 track below to hear how this scale sounds when taking to a lead guitar situation.
C7 Backing Track C7 Backing Track
Moving on, here are four dominant diminished scale shapes starting with your middle finger on the first note of each scale.
The the exception to this fingering guideline is the last shape, which starts on your index finger.
Lastly, here are four dominant diminished scale shapes that begin with your pinky finger.
Don’t forget to memorize any of these one-octave shapes, and also solo with them over the backing track in your dominant diminished scale studies.
Once you have any of these fingerings, you can take it further in your studies by holding down a C7 chord and singing the notes of a C dominant diminished scale.
Singing with your guitar is an effective way to build your ears to hear any new sound, especially one as tense as the dominant diminished scale.
Even if you’re a terrible singer, I sure am, give it a try.
Just lock your door, close your windows, and turn on a fan.
No one will hear, and you’ll get your ears up to the next level in their development in no time.
Dominant Diminished Scale – Two Octave
You’ll now move on to learning two-octave dominant diminished scale shapes on the fretboard.
When working out this larger scales, take a look at the fingers used on each string.
Dominant diminished scale fingerings are symmetrical, just like the scale itself.
You can use the fingers 1-2-4-4 on every string going up the dominant diminished scale.
Then, on the way down use 4-3-1-1.
This’ll allow you to use one fingering on each string going up and then going down the dominant diminished scale.
Making it easy to memorize and apply to your guitar solos across the fretboard.
C7 Backing Track C7 Backing Track
Once you have these two-octave dominant diminished scale shapes under your fingers, bring them together with the one-octave shapes you learned earlier in this lesson.
Mixing scales of different lengths on the fretboard is a great way to push yourself in new creative directions in your solos.
You might find that you prefer certain phrases in the shorter scales, and different ones in the longer scales.
Give this mixture exercise a try and see where it leads you in your guitar solo practice routine.
Dominant Diminished Scale – Licks
In this final section of the lesson, you’ll learn three dominant diminished scale licks over popular chord progressions.
When learning these lines, don’t just focus on the tension created by this scale over each 7th chord.
Instead, notice how this tension is resolved into the next chord, or even the same chord, in the progression.
To paraphrase Stevie Ray Vaughan:
It’s real easy to go outside, but it’s much harder to get back inside.
If you use the dominant diminished scale in your solos and don’t resolve the tension, you’re gonna have a bad time.
But, if you can resolve that tension properly, you’ll bring a new level of interest and energy to your guitar solos.
There’s a fine line between a mistake and a cool lick.
Finding that line is your goal when learning any tension creating scale such as dominant diminished on the guitar.
To begin, this first line is played over a two-bar G7 chord, and the tension over that chord is resolved to the root note at the end of the phrase.
Click to hear half whole diminished scale 1
Next, you’ll apply the G dominant diminished scale to the G7 chord, the V7, in a ii-V-I chord progression in the key of C major.
Click to hear half whole diminished scale 2
Lastly, here are the G and C dominant diminished scales applied to the first four bars of a G 12-bar Blues chord progression.
Click to hear half whole diminished scale 3
Once you’ve learned these three dominant diminished scale licks, come up with 3 to 5 of your own lines as you bring this scale into your own musical personality on the guitar.
Diminished scales, fully or dominant, are essential soloing tools or any modern guitarist.
These scales will not only allow you to solo with confidence over dim7 and 7th chords, but you’ll open up your ears to a new sound and expand your fretboard knowledge all at the same time.
Do you have a question about the fully or dominant diminished scale? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.