Jazz Blues Guitar – Soloing with Diminished Scales

Written by Dr. Matt Warnock

Topics: Lessons

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.

 

Lesson Aims

  1. Discuss the relationship between Diminished and Dominant.
  2. Theory Recap – Dominant vs. Diminished.
  3. 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.

 

Mixolydian Scale

R 2 3 4 5 6 b7 R

Diminished Scale

R b2 b3 3 #4 5 6 b7 R

 

Analysis

 

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.

 

Example 1

  • 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.
  • ŸThe 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.

 

Click to hear the audio for this lick.

 

Diminished Scale Lick 1

 

Example 2

  • ŸThe first half of lick 2 adopts a more Blues approach utilizing the second position of the C major pentatonic scale (D C F G).
  • ŸWhile 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.
  • ŸUtilizing 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.)
  • ŸPhrygian Dominant and other associated exotic scales will be covered with greater detail in a future series of lessons.

 

Click to hear the audio for this lick.

 

Diminished Scale Lick 2

 

Example 3

  • ŸThe final lick begins with an arpeggio that utilizes the intervals maj 6th,root, b5, root to produce the diminished sound.
  • ŸThis is followed by an odd note grouping chromatic slur that resolves to the maj 3rd to reinstate the Mixolydian sound.
  • ŸThe lick concludes with a pull off phrase that lands on the maj 6thof the home chord.

 

Click to hear the audio for this lick.

 

Diminished Scale Lick 3

 

 

Closing Points

 

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.

4 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think your examples are very effective for demonstrating the sound of the diminished scale. Demonstrating an application of the half-whole dim. scale on the V7 of a ii7-V7-Imaj7 progression, with the line targeting the 3rd of the Imaj7 would have given some context, which all of your examples lack. Also, you could have done something similar while demonstrating the half-whole scale as a tension-builder on the I7 going to the IV7 of a blues – both with an accompaniment containing harmony for some context. I also question your examples of the application on static harmony, where you target the 13th of the chord you’re on. Again, you need to have an harmonic accompaniment and the lick should be sandwiched in between blues licks or something more “inside” – again, something to provide context and demonstrate the contrast. After all the goal is to introduce the sound of this scale (I presume), but as it stands, to the ears of the novice, he’s just going to hear a series of dissonant notes, completely without context.

    Regards,
    Sol

    • Ashley Clark says:

      Hey Sol, First of all thanks for your comment , I appreciate all constructive feedback to help shape future lessons.

      I can appreciate where your coming from , and again they are valid points . However my overall aim was to demonstrate a combination of both the diminished as well as the traditional dominant (Mixolydian) sound. This is why I have been analyzing the similarities between the two throughout the article

      I also wanted to avoid incorporating too much jazz theory content for an intermediate guitarist. My aim was to base the first part of lesson strictly around the I to IV transition in a 12 bar progression. The second part of this lesson will discuss using diminished intervals as anticipation notes for the 12 bar changes.As well as using dim7 as sub chords, to help further the readers awareness of the DOMINANT/DIMINISHED sound. I shall also address soloing concepts over a II7-V7-IMaj7 involving diminished in a subsequent article.
      Demonstrating strictly the diminished sound over non altered dominant changes would sound ‘harmonically ambiguous’ and offer little benefit to the reader.
      I have tried to avoid this happening in the licks and have analyzed throughout to help the reader understand what is happening harmonically.

      Overall I m sorry if you did nt find any benefit from viewing this lesson.
      By the sound s of your knowledge in the comment I imagine you are already playing to a high standard, so good on you !!
      Thank you,your feedback has been taken on board.
      Best,
      Ashley

  2. Rick says:

    I’m very appreciative of the time & knowledge that you folks freely give. My comment is that I think it would be most helpful to actually hear these ideas being used in a solo. It’s fine to ‘understand’ these concepts, but hearing them at work would pull it together a lot more effectively.
    Thanks again
    Rick

  3. Ashley Clark says:

    Hey Rick

    Thanks for your comment , sounds like it could be a really positive idea to incorporate into future articles.

    I think the main challenge to providing a ‘solo’ for every example in an article is that it could become quite time consuming , potentially affecting the volume of free content we can produce for you.

    However the next part of this article covers using diminished intervals as anticipation notes , so lets see if i can at least a get cpl of bars of 12 bar changes going and pull some of the licks together for you to further expand upon their functionality in a blues solo.

    Thanks again for your feedback and for checking out the article!

    Best,
    Ashley

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