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The Half/Whole Diminished Scale
  

The half/whole diminished scale is what we call a symmetrical scale, meaning it is based on a repeating pattern of specific intervals. In the case of this scale, a 1/2 step interval followed by a whole step interval.

The half/whole diminished scale
Unlike most scales which generally contain seven notes, the half/whole diminished scale is an eight note scale. Examine the scale and the intervals within it below:



Basically there are two scales that are used for improvising over and harmonizing functioning dominant chords. One being, the subject of this lesson, the half/whole diminished scale and the other, the altered scale (the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale). Let's take a look at and compare the two of them:

Half/whole diminished scale


Altered scale


By comparing them you will find that while both scales offer the raised and lowered 9ths, only the half/whole diminished scale contains a 13th. As a trade off for the 13th, the altered scale offers both the raised and lowered 5ths.

before we move on to applying the half/whole diminished scale over the appropriate chords, make yourself familiar with it:



Because of the half/whole diminished scale's symmetrical structure, by remembering one pattern of the scale, you are actually remembering four. You can play any pattern of the scale up or down a minor 3rd and still be playing the same diminished scale. Let's take the last pattern we just learned and move it down a minor 3rd. It is still a C half/whole diminished scale:



By looking at the complete half/whole diminished scale diagram below you can see that it is the same pattern repeated over and over again:


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Harmonizing the half/whole diminished scale
As you can see below, the 7th chord that this scale makes is a simple dominant 7th chord but what makes the half/whole diminished scale special is the extensions it creates for the chord. If we add in the 9ths, we get the option of adding either a b9 or a #9 or both. We also have the option of a #11th (or if you think enharmonically, a b5th). The altered scale will also give the same three extension options but the one extension that the altered scale will not give you is the natural 13th. The only scale that gives you both the altered 9ths plus a natural 13th is the half/whole diminished scale. Chords created by this scale (C half/whole diminished): C7, C7b5, C13, C7#9, C7b9, C7, C7(b5,#9), C7(b5,b9), C7(b9,#9), C13(b9), C13(#9), etc..



These are some of the more common 6th string root chord voicings that come from the half/whole diminished scale:



And some of the more uncommon voicings:



Of course a simple C7#9 or C7b9 chord work fine with this scale. Just be aware that no natural 9ths or augmented 5th are found anywhere in any chords constructed from this scale.
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Chord Shapes and the "min 3rd." Trick
As I said before, Since the half/whole diminished scale is a symmetrical scale, any scale shape, pattern or phrase can be move up or down in minor 3rds and still work. The same can be done with chord shapes. The C7#9 chord below is a fairly typical voicing. I included the root for reference although you don't need to play it. If you want to play it, you will have to play it with your thumb. We can take this shape and...



Move it up in minor 3rds to create some different chords. You can use this technique to make a simple V - I chord progression more interesting. Play the four separate C dominant voicings on the strong beats in the first measure before resolving to the Fmin chord. The bass player should be playing a C bass note throughout the whole process, you'll be playing the top of the chords:




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Same thing with this garden variety C7#9 voicing...



Move the identical shape minor 3rds apart and you'll get yourself four separate voicings that all function as some kind of diminished harmony dominant chord:




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If you had two bars of the C7 chord to play chords over, you could combine the previous two ideas to get this:




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Creating Lines
The half/whole diminished scale has a very angular sound. I like to create lines using both wide and neighboring intervals:



The structure of the scale, for better or worse, allows you to create very mathematical sequences:



Hate to repeat myself again but: because of the symmetrical structure of the scale, we can take any phrase and move it up or down in minor 3rds. First learn the line below....



I took the same line and expanded it by using the minor 3rd technique. Notice how I took the phrase in the first bracket and transposed it up a minor 3rd to make the phrase in the second bracket. You can do this kind of thing indefinitely with this scale:


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Applications
You will find that the half/whole diminished scale looks and sounds similar to the blues scale. For this reason it works well over a simple dominant vamp. You can create interesting effects by trading between the two. Play the blues scale over the following C7#9 vamp and step out by using the half/whole diminished scale. John Scofield is a master of this technique. Check out his classic tune, "Techno" from his "Still Warm" CD.



The half/whole diminished scale also works well over the V chord in a ii - V - I chord progression. Just remember: no #5s are allowed in the chord if you want to use this scale. For the progression below, use a G dorian scale (F major) over the G min9 chord, a C half/whole diminished scale over the C13b9 chord and a F lydian scale (C major) over the F69 chord:


 

About the Author
Native New Yorker, long time studio musician and session guitarist Chris Juergensen is in constant demand as a sideman, front man and clinician. He currently divides his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles where he continues to write, record, play and teach at Musicians Institute. He has released three solo CDs to date plus two published instructional books. Visit his website


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