Dominant chords are fairly flexible in terms of soloing. You can use the mixolydian scale, the altered scale, the whole tone scale, and more. And with alterations, like #9, b9, #11, and b13 chords, there are always a ton of options that you can use to add color and tension to your lines. Honestly, you can play pretty well anything over a dominant chord, so long as you focus on the resolution it’s making back to the tonic chord.
Today, we’re going to specifically check out the half-whole diminished scale. This is one of those techniques that, when used properly, can give a more sophisticated sound to your playing.
If this is something you want to dive deeper on, make sure to check out two of JLV’s PDF packages: 15 exercises for diminished scale technique and 65 shredding diminished phrases. If you want to follow along with Jayden, check out our YouTube video for this blog. Now let’s get into this scary scale!
Building the half-whole diminished scale
Getting started, let’s look at how this scale is built. The half-whole diminished scale is an octatonic scale—meaning that there are eight notes in the scale, instead of the usual seven and sometimes five or six. As the name implies, we’ll build this scale with consecutive half and whole steps, repeating up the scale until we return to the tonic. This is distinct from the whole-half scale, which is built similarly, but with repeating whole and half steps.
The structure of the scale makes it totally symmetrical, which makes it nice when it comes to filling out a whole measure.
Interestingly, much like other symmetrical scales, there are also only three distinct transpositions of this scale, and the rest are technically inversions of previous versions.
Take a look at C half-whole diminished:
Then have a look at C# half-whole diminished:
Finally, let’s look at D half-whole diminished:
Now you’ll realize as we come to Eb half-whole diminished, we’re actually repeating the same notes as we did in C half-whole diminished—it’s just an inversion of the scale. The same goes for E and C, F and D, and so on.
So actually, you only have three different scales that you need to learn and you will know it in all keys.
Diminished arpeggio exercise
Let’s get into how we can use this scale a bit.
We’ll start with an exercise using fully diminished seventh arpeggios from every note in the half-whole diminished scale. Now it you look closely, what we’re really doing here is alternating between two different diminished seventh arpeggios—Cº7 and Dbº7. Once we hit the Eb diminished arpeggio, we’re using the same notes as Cº7, likewise for E and Db. Keeping this pattern in mind is helpful, and will make this exercise a bit easier to take through the keys.
Overall, this exercise will help you internalize the sound of the diminished scale and give you a bit more flexibility across your instrument with the diminished scale itself.
Half-whole diatonic exercise
Next up, we’re going to check out a diatonic exercise, where we’ll move the 1, 2, 3, 5 cell up the half-whole diminished scale, followed by a descending line down the scale. This allows us to voice lead up a half or whole step depending on our next note in the scale.
When we descend, we’re going to do the same exercise, but we’ll voice lead downward at the end of the phrase.
If you want to hear how Jayden does it, make sure to check out our accompanying video on YouTube, “This Concept will make your dominant chords sound SCARY!”
Half-whole approach note exercise
For this next exercise, let’s add in some chromaticism—this will be a half-whole diminished approach note exercise.
We’re starting out with our same 1, 2, 3, 5 cell, but instead of descending like we did at the end of the phrase, we’re going to add a chromatic enclosure to the next note in the half-whole diminished scale. You’ll notice how there’s a D natural in the first measure, which is not part of the half-whole diminished scale—instead, it’s being used as a chromatic note in a three-note enclosure.
Here you can see Eb, D, and C wrap around the Db on beat one of the next measure. If you take a closer look at the ascending version of the pattern, you see that enclosure happening in every single measure, which is a really nice way to get some voice leading into different notes in the half-whole diminished scale.
Checking out the descending version, it’s going to look a little different. We’re going to go 1, 2, 3, 4 up the scale, before we descend and use the same enclosure around the next note down in the half-whole scale.
If you’re looking to really challenge yourself with more exercises like this, make sure to check out our PDF packages we mentioned earlier, you can find these first three in 15 exercises for diminished scale techniques.
These next phrase exercises come from our 65 shredding diminished phrases PDF package.
Now when we go to learn any scale, along with exercises, you want to learn them through all 12 keys and push the tempo steadily so that you’re able to have a mastery of the sound and technique.
Our first phrase is going to be a short one over a C7b9 chord. Of course, the half-whole diminished scale suits any dominant chord. But if you’re looking for a chord that fits perfectly, look no further than the 7b9 chord or 7b9b13 chord.
Quickly taking a look at the notes in this phrase, we can see that we’re starting on the root and moving up a few notes in the scale, specifically 1, 2, 3, 6. Then we’ll land on the fifth note of the scale on beat three. From beat three, we’re going to stay diatonic with the Eb, E, and G, before landing on the seventh on beat one of that next measure. Once again, we’re staying diatonic before we get to that B natural, which is here to add a nice little color tone before we go to b3 and 1.
Now let’s open up that phrase a bit and add some chromaticism to make it a bit longer.
As you see, we’re actually starting the same way with the 1, 2, 3, 6. Descending back down, we’ve got that D as a chromatic note and we sort of chromatically enclose the 3 on beat one of the next measure. Then we’ve got another three-note enclosure, where we’re enclosing that 6, which is of course the fifth of the chord, before we move diatonically up the half-whole scale.
That leads nicely to the root on beat one, because we can see another chromatic enclosure leading to that A natural there on beat three of bar three, before we once again enclose the root on beat one of the final measure. Of course, we can also see that in the final measure that the great thing about this scale is that we can still get those chord tones in there. So we’ve got the root, the fifth, the third, the flat nine—of course addressing the b9 of the chord before resolving again to the root note on beat three.
For this next one, let’s move on to a major ii-V-I, where we’ll use the diminished scale over the V chord.
So we’re already seeing something interesting going on—that we’re actually playing the G half-whole diminished scale over the ii chord. This is a way of anticipating the V chord, which sounds really hip. You can always do this—anticipating the V or even anticipating the I chord, as long as you resolve it smoothly. And with this phrase, it absolutely does—we can see it resolving nicely to the third on beat one of bar three, which lines up nicely with the one chord.
Taking a look at the notes, we’ve already had that Bb leading into the G natural, and here we start our half-whole diminished sound. So the half-whole scale allows us to chromatically enclose that Bb on beat one of bar two. Of course, we can also utilize some of that upward arpeggio sound—we’ve got that B, D, F up on the Bb, and this leads nicely downwards by step to the third of the one chord in bar three.
And when we resolve, we’re just playing nice and diatonic, which sounds great after playing something a little more tense and a little more scary like the half-whole diminished scale on the V chord.
Our fourth and final phrase is going to be on a minor iiº-V-i. The half-whole scale is a super useful one for minor especially, because oftentimes you’re going to have an altered dominant chord. As we mentioned before the half-whole diminished scale works really well over altered chords, since it includes many of the chromatic alterations diatonically. In this case, it is a choice you can make alongside the altered scale.
Jumping right in to the first measure we see the locrian scale, which is the seventh mode of the major scale, to address that Dm7b5 (or half diminished) chord. This leads nicely downward by half step to the V chord. Now an interesting thing happening with this particular phrase is that the first two beats of the dominant chord are actually on a different half-whole diminished scale, and we’re sort of continuing that sound that starts in the first measure.
Looking at it from C natural on beat three, we actually descend down the C half-whole scale. While this isn’t the half-whole scale you would generally use to descend on that V chord, it leads so nicely to that Bb on beat three of bar two that we’re then able to transition to our usual G half-whole diminished scale that you would use over the V chord.
This leads us really nicely to the seventh on beat one of bar three, and once we resolve we’re using that melodic minor sound over the minor chord.
We really covered a ton of content for the half-whole diminished scale in this blog, but if you really want to grow your skills and push yourself further, make sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video, as well as our 15 exercises for diminished scale technique and 65 shredding diminished phrases PDF packages on jazzlessonvideos.com.
Of course, with all of this, memory is key—that’s why whenever we’re working on a different sound or scale, you’ll want to focus on all 12 keys.
Thanks for stopping in, we’ll see you next time!