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Understanding Diminished 7th Chords and How to Improvise Over Them (feat. Adam Levy)

Welcome to episode 182 of the LJS Podcast where today I have special guest Adam Levy on the show to talk about diminished harmony and how to start improvising over diminished 7th chords. If you’ve ever felt confused by diminished chords and how to approach them, consider this a must listen episode.

Listen to episode 182

Have you ever been improvising over a jazz standard and everything was going fine but then suddenly you ran into a big bad scary diminished 7th chord and you just didn’t know what to do?

Well, I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say, yes, diminished chords have often confused me when it comes to improvising. And sometimes I felt very limited with my knowledge and ability of how to improvise over them and what context they were playing.

On today’s episode, I have a very special guest, musician, jazz guitarist, singer-songwriter, Adam Levy, to talk all about diminished theory, diminished harmony, and some tools for how to improvise over them.

In this episode:

1. Adam Levy and his vibrant musical career

2. 4 common diminished harmonic contexts to know

3. Improvising over diminished 7ths starting with the chord tones

4. Thinking of auxilary notes to approach chord tones rather than diminished scales

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Learn Jazz Standards Podcast. If you aren’t already, make sure you are subscribed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I look forward to having you join me in the next episode!

Important Links

Adam’s Guitar Tips Pro

Adam’s new album “Accidental Courage”

Adam’s TrueFire Courses

LJS 121: Understanding Secondary and Backdoor Dominants

LJS Inner Circle Membership

Free Guide to learn standards by ear: Learn Jazz Standards the Smart Way

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Today is the first time I listened to a Learn Jazz Standards podcast, and I loved it. The explanation of diminished chords by Adam and Brent is clear, practical, comprehensive, and enlightening.

    In particular, they illustrate (for the diminished scale) a fundamental principle for building beautiful melodies and chords from a scale: the chord tones provide the foundation (as arpeggios, target notes, etc.) and non-chord scale tones add color (as tensions. enclosures, etc.).

    Thank you for generously sharing your expertise.

  2. hey Brent long time listener great stuff. i'm going to enroll in some courses at Juilliard .What do you think i should enroll in first , a Theory course or an Ear training course. Thanks Brent

  3. Well I thought it was a great podcast, full of in-depth knowledge which I know I will want to revisit (and definitely need to) over and over. I really like Adam’s vibe; It was a mesmerising mix of laid back LA-ness and sharp on-the-ball New York-ness. You sure do a good podcast Brent and your mix of guests is excellent.
    I’ve never done a Spotify podcast review but I will make a point of endeavouring to do just that tomorrow. Good to have you back at the LJS mic.

    • Remind me how much you paid for this podcast? And what number is this 182! Quit complaining, I have absolutely no problem with guests introducing themselves. You never know, you might find something really helpful.

      • Sorry but I’m with Jim on this one. I don’t have a lot of time and am interested in hearing what the guest has to say about music. I almost turned it off, but just now he has begun talking about the Great American Songbook. Signing off now – he’s got to the subject of the interview and I have to concentrate . . .

    • Jim and Stewart, Adam Levy is a distinguished guest and a phenomenal musician. He deserves your respect and he deserves to tell his story. It seems you're missing out on the treasure trove of information you can learn from a musician like him.

      • Totally agree with you Brent. I always enjoy hearing guests tell a little about themselves (as well as your own anecdotes too!); who knows one day some of us might even meet them. And yes they totally deserve everyone's respect! Great podcast as always Brent, I for one learned a lot.

      • Brent, and especially Adam, I've been kicking myself all day. I absolutely meant no disrespect to such a distinguished musician as Adam Levy. The moment I got the email with the link to a conversation about diminished chords I immediately clicked it hoping to have my questions answered. I was in a rush, and too dumb to realize that I could scroll forward and return later to hear the whole podcast – which I am doing now. Yes, Adam definitely should tell his story, and the discussion on diminished chords is absolutely wonderful: intelligent, clearly explained and enormously helpful. I will return to it often. Brent, thank you for your wonderful Website, and my sincerest apologies to you both.


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