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How To Play The Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale

This week’s reader generated article comes from a question posted on the Matt Warnock Guitar Facebook Page. A reader asked about how to harmonize the different notes in the Half-Whole Diminished Scale, and since I get this question a lot from other readers and students, I decided it was a great topic for this week’s reader question article.


When learning how to play jazz guitar, developing a strong understanding of the Half-Whole Diminished Scale from both a harmonic and melodic standpoint is an essential tool that can greatly expand your vocabulary in both a comping and soloing situation.

In the following article you will learn how to build a Half-Whole Diminished Scale, what chords are used to harmonize this scale, and how to apply this knowledge to comping, chord scales and improvising.

Have a question or comment about this lesson? Visit the Half-Whole Dim Harmony thread at the MWG Forum.


Half-Whole Diminished Scale


Before we dive into the harmonic content of the Half-Whole Diminished Scale, let’s look at how to build this scale from an intervallic standpoint.

The scale gets its name because it is built by alternating half-steps and whole-steps as you ascend from the root up to the next octave.

Here is how the scale looks starting on the note C:


C Db Eb E Gb G A Bb C


So you can see that the intervals between each note alternate between half-steps and whole steps, creating an eight-note scale as opposed to the seven-note scales you may be used to.

Here are the intervals  for each note in a Half-Whole Diminished Scale that you can use as a reference when working with this sound in the practice room.


R b2 b3 3 b5(#11) 5 6 b7 R


And here is how the C Half-Whole Diminished Scale looks on the staff, in both notation and tab.




As well, if you are new to this scale and want to check out further one and two-octave fingerings for it on the guitar, you can read my article “How to Play Half-Whole Diminished Scales for Guitar.”


Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale – Dim7 Chords


The first level of harmony we will check out with the Half-Whole Diminished Scale are the four different dim7 chords that are found within its construction.

These four different chords contain the same four notes, in the key of C it would be Db-E-G-Bb, with each new occurrence of the dim7 chord being an inversion of the previous voicing in the scale. Notice that these dim7 chords fall on the b9, 3rd, 5th and b7th of the tonic note, C, which can help you memorize and recall these chords in a performance situation.

This is a great way to improvise and comp over any C7 chord, transforming it into a C7b9. If you want to get a C7b9 sound, you can play the arpeggio or voicing for Dbdim7, Edim7, Gdim7 or Bbdim7 in order to bring out that quality.

Here is how these chords are spelled in the key of C:


Db E G Bb

E G Bb Db

G Bb Db E

Bb Db E Bb


So you can see that there the dim7 chord pops up four times within this scale, but each time it is built using the same four notes, as you would with any inversion of any chord such as maj7, 7 or m7.

Here is how these voicings look in the key of C using closed-position chords.


Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale



Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale – 7th Chords


The next level of harmony that you can check out with the Half-Whole Diminished Scale are the four dominant 7th chords that occur above the other notes of the scale, C7-Eb7-Gb7-A7. This means that you can use the C Half-Whole Diminished Scale to improvise and comp over those four different dominant 7 chords. Notice that the 7th chords fall on the root, b3rd, b5th and 6th of the tonic key, which can help you recall and use these chords quickly in a performance situation.

As you begin to experiment with this sound in a comping situation, let your ears guide you as to where and when you want to use these 7th chords in your playing. Theoretically you can use Eb7, Gb7 and A7 to comp over C7 to give it a Half-Whole flavor, but this might not always sound good. So try it out in the practice room before you take it out on the bandstand to avoid any awkward looks from the rest of the group if these chords don’t sound exactly as you had planned.

Here is how each of those chords is spelled. Notice that they are not inversions of each other as was the case with the dim7 chords, but instead are stand-alone chords as far as their construction is concerned.


C E G Bb

Eb G Bb Db

Gb A Db E

A C#(Db) E G


And here is how these four chords look like on the page, in both notation and tab in the key of C using closed-position voicings.


Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale 2


Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale – Chord Scale


In the following example I have written out a Half-Whole Diminished Chord Scale in the key of C, using Drop 2 Chords on the middle four strings. Notice that you have four dim7 and four 7 chords when you harmonize the entire scale. This means that you can now use the C Half-Whole Diminished Scale to improvise and comp over the following chords:












After you have checked out this example, and taken it to other keys on this string set, try building chord scales with the Half-Whole Diminished scale with Drop 2 chords on other string sets, as well as with any other Jazz Guitar Chord that you know or are working on in the practice room.


Harmonized Half Whole Diminished Scale 3



Having a strong understanding of how to build and use the Half-Whole Diminished Scale can not only help you shore up your theory knowledge, but it can also help you apply this scale and its chords in situations that you may not have thought of before, greatly expanding your harmonic and melodic vocabulary.


Do you have a favorite way to think of or use the harmonized Half-Whole Diminished Scale? If so, please share it in the comment section below.

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  1. Dolf Schaller, June 18, 2012:





  2. Matthew Warnock, June 18, 2012:

    Hey here are two transcriptions that you can check out, hope they help!

  3. GuitarMarty, September 10, 2012:

    oh Matt, don’t be a half-whole. ;)

  4. Amelia, October 10, 2012:

    Hey Matt
    Thanks for recommending that I learn the half-whole dim scale and its harmony. I’m excited to let you know that after spending 40 days on it, I now know the 12 keys. It’s opened up my improv choice on dominant chords for jazz songs where I need a more exotic flavour e.g. the bridge of All The Things You Are.

    My next challenge is learning how to improvise jazz blues e.g. Bird, Red Garland. I already know the mixolydian, and the min blues scales, do you recommend I learn the happy blues scale next ?

  5. Matthew Warnock, October 10, 2012:

    That’s great Amelia! I would say that you should start learning a blues melody or 2 first, then dig into the soloing. Try any one of these, be a great intro to jazz blues.

  6. Amelia, October 10, 2012:

    Thanks Matt for your suggested order. So:
    1. Learn blues melody
    2. Learn blues solo
    3. Learn scales. And I can see that the half-whole dim scale will be very handy for the dominants.

  7. Matthew Warnock, October 10, 2012:

    That’s a good plan, and when you are ready for scales check out this article to dig into some cool bebop blues scales.

  8. Rodger, May 4, 2015:

    Thanks for the lesson Matt, but I’m confused. It appears to me that if I begin stacking thirds in this scale that the first chord would be spelled: C-Eb-Gb(F#)-Bbb(A), rather than C-E-G-Bb. Why do I use the 1st-4th-6th & 8th degrees for the C7 instead of the 1st-3rd-5th-7th degrees,( which would spell another dim chord)? I see that this is done on a consistent basis for all the dominant chords. What am I missing?

  9. Matt Warnock, May 4, 2015:

    Hi Roger. this is because this scale has 8 notes, and so it functions and is dealt with a bit differently from a harmonic standpoint than traditional 7-note modes. So we play with the notes a bit to find the harmonizations, rather than simply stack 3rds as you would with a mode. hope that helps.

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