The diminished scale consists of alternating half-steps and whole-steps. You can actually start with a whole-step or a half-step, and the intervals alternate. The diminished scale is a symmetrical scale, and so there are not 12 distinct pitch collections, as there are with the major scale. There are only 3 diminished pitch collections, and each diminished pitch collection can start on 8 different notes and can be associated with 8 different chords; four diminished and four dominant (13b9) chords.
Here are some 5 Useful Licks that use the diminished scale. This PDF shows which chords can be used with each of the licks. These are great licks, so learn them and enjoy using them!
Part 2 of this series demonstrates how these licks can be played over 8 different chords. Click here to learn how to play a diminished lick over 8 different chords!
We also have another Lick of the Week that uses the diminished scale.
There are two sub-categories of the diminished scale: the half-whole diminished scale, and the whole-half diminished scale. Both types of diminished scale are derived from the 3 diminished pitch collections.
One easy way of conceptualizing the diminished scale is to know that you can start a half-whole diminished scale on C, F, or G. These are the 3 diminished scales, but because of its symmetry you can start any of the 3 scales on any chord tone within the scale.
Here are the 3 diminished pitch collections:
C Half-Whole Diminished Pitch Collection
C Db Eb E F# G A Bb C
F Half-Whole Diminished Pitch Collection
F Gb Ab A B C D Eb F
G Half-Whole Diminished Pitch Collection
G Ab Bb B C# D E F G
I am using the term “pitch collection” to emphasize that you can start on different notes and find various different diminished scales out of these 3 pitch collections. You can start on an note in each of the 3 pitch collections. Here are some important points to consider to help you understand the 3 diminished pitch collections:
- Starting these 3 pitch collections on C, F, and G is arbitrary. It is an easy way to conceptualize the fact that there are three different diminished scales and not 12. However, you can start them on any chromatic tone.
- You could just as easily think of them as the C, Db, and D half-whole diminished pitch collections. You could even choose another 3 notes (as long as they represent each of the 3 pitch collections).
- The 8 chords associated with each diminished chord are as follows:
- C Half-Whole Diminished scale works with C13b9, C#dim7, Eb13b9, Edim7, F#13b9, Gdim7, A13b9, and Bbdim7.
- F Half-Whole Diminished scale works with F13b9, F#dim7, Ab13b9, Adim7, B13b9, Cdim7, D13b9, and Ebdim7.
- G Half-Whole Diminished scale works with G13b9, G#dim7, Bb13b9, Bdim7, C#13b9, Ddim7, E13b9, and Fdim7.
- You can start any of these scales on any note within the pitch collection. (For instance, if you start and end the C Half-whole diminished on a C#, you actually have a C# whole-half diminished chord. It is the same collection of pitches as the C half-whole diminished scale, BUT it just starts on a different note and with a different interval.)
- The half-whole and whole-half diminished scales correspond with 13b9 and dim7 chords, respectively. For instance, the C half-whole diminished pitch collection can be started and ended also on Dbdim7 (Db whole-half diminished scale); Eb13b9 (Eb half-whole diminished scale); Edim7 (E whole-half diminished scale); F#13b9 (F# half-whole diminished scale); Gdim7 (G whole-half diminished scale), A13b9 (A half-whole diminished scale); and Bbdim7 (whole-half diminished scale).
For more information on the diminished scale, you can visit our other article, Secrets of the Diminished Scale.