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Increase Tension by Using Dominant Diminished!

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:

Half-whole diminished scale built on C for jazz musicians

Then have a look at C# half-whole diminished:

Learning how to build the half-whole diminished scale starting on C#

Finally, let’s look at D half-whole diminished:

Jazz reference D half-whole diminished scale lesson

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.

Half-whole diminished scale transposition same notes

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.

Diminished half-whole arpeggio exercise ascending

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.

Diminished half-whole arpeggio exercise descending

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.