By: Ashley Clark
This Jazz Blues Guitar lesson is aimed at guitarists that are already competent in playing over a 12-bar progression utilizing a variety of major/minor pentatonic shapes, Mixolydian and Dorian modal lines.
If you don’t feel quite comfortable with this yet, I would recommend learning your pentatonic scales and major scale modes using the resource mentioned at the end of this article.
- Discuss the relationship between Diminished and Dominant.
- Theory Recap – Dominant vs. Diminished.
- Demonstrate 3 Dominant/Diminished Jazz Blues licks.
The Dominant/Diminished Relationship
Guitarists that have already explored mixing up different scales over a dominant chord will have noticed that it’s not just the major pentatonic scale that works, as one might first assume.
The chord comprises of both a maj 3rd and min 7th (b7th) which produces ‘hybrid tonality’, meaning that its composition borrows from both the major and minor scales.
Additionally, when a maj 3rd and min 7th are played together they produce a tritone interval (b5th).
Therefore, the dominant chord is essentially built around a collection of ‘unstable’ intervals that forms the foundations of its characteristic unresolved sound.
Due to the dominant chords unresolved ‘hybrid tonality’ it can leave greater room for harmonic interpretation when improvising.
Theory Recap – Diminished vs. Dominant
To demonstrate the relationship between the Dominant and Diminished, I shall write out both the closest relative scale to the Dominant chord (Mixolydian) and also the Diminished scale for comparison.
R 2 3 4 5 6 b7 R
R b2 b3 3 #4 5 6 b7 R
When comparing the two scales, you can see both contain the following relative intervals – Root, 3rd, 5th, 6th and b7th.
In analysis of the remaining intervals, I would suggest that the maj/min3rd can interchange due to the fact that both scales contain major and minor intervals (Diminished – min3rd / 6th) (Dominant – maj3rd / min 7th) .
The ‘hybrid tonality’ of the dominant sound allows for the maj/min3rd interchange to work for the listeners ear, as they are already hearing a combination of major and minor tonality.
With regard to incorporating the b5th, I would suggest that the Dominant chord/Mixolydian scale also contains a tritone interval in the form of the maj3rd/b7th.
Therefore a b5th interval can be incorporated as the listener’s ear has already been accustomed to the tritone sound.
Incorporating the b2nd can be seen as a way of adding extra tension when you are targeting the root as a resolution point in your lines.
3 Jazz Blues Guitar Licks
I will now demonstrate 3 dominant/diminished Jazz Blues licks in both tab and notation, combined with accompanying analysis.
- Lick 1 begins by sliding into an E (3rd of a C7) combined with a Bb (b7th) and another 3rd, creating a strong dominant chord opening.
- The 3rd note of beat 2 then introduces the b3rd into the lick, this could be seen as both a diminished or Dorian note.
- Beat 3 demonstrates again the ability of the minor and major 3rd to interchange, as well as the tritone to give it a strong diminished vibe.
- The lick ends resolving to an A note (maj6thof C7). The major 6th being a popular target note for a jazzier approach to a dominant chord lick.
- The first half of lick 2 adopts a more Blues approach utilizing the second position of the C major pentatonic scale (D C F G).
- While the second half of the lick takes on a more ‘exotic’ sound utilizing both a major 6th and a b2nd before resolving to the root of C7 or a 5th if you continue over the F7 change.
- Utilizing a combination of b2nd, maj3rd and b7th in a lick not only hints at Diminished and Mixolydian, but also towards the sound of Phrygian Dominant (5th degree of Harmonic Minor mode.)
- Phrygian Dominant and other associated exotic scales will be covered with greater detail in a future series of lessons.
- The final lick begins with an arpeggio that utilizes the intervals maj 6th,root, b5, root to produce the diminished sound.
- This is followed by an odd note grouping chromatic slur that resolves to the maj 3rd to reinstate the Mixolydian sound.
- The lick concludes with a pull off phrase that lands on the maj 6thof the home chord.
I hope this article has helped provide a useful insight into how the diminished scale can function in the Jazz/Blues players’ vocabulary.
It is worth noting that the transition between the I to IV chord is a common platform to express altered tones when improvising over a 12 bar progression.
However don’t let this inhibit your creativity of note choice when approaching a solo.
I would also encourage learning the licks in all 12 chromatic keys, as well as in different positions of the neck to further expand upon your improvisational vocabulary.
Finally, I think it is important to try and hear where the diminished scale could add to your melodic motif, as opposed to incorporating it just to impress others.
The use of ‘altered tones’ when soloing can quickly become a contrived sound if not handled with taste and subtlety, so let your ears be the judge of when you want to use these tones in your licks and phrases.
About the Author
Ashley Clark is a writer on Jazz guitar and a respected contributor to Your Guitar Tutor http://www.yourguitartutor.co.uk/ – a place for any level of guitarist to learn with free guitar lessons and guitar ebooks. Your Guitar Tutor is run by professional online guitar tutors that play in a variety of styles to meet your needs.