Diminished Scale Theory

Did you watch Tuomo’s lesson on Diminished Scales & Runs …?

Check it out here:

I still need to study this lesson properly when I get the time…

I remember editing it and thinking to myself “I must sit down for a couple hours with this lesson to practice it all” :grinning:

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@Pierrot - I’ve had lots of different musicians explain diminished concepts to me, and some made more sense than others.

I think the best thing is to find as many different ‘views’ or ‘perspectives’ as possible and this will help to build the ‘complete picture’ :sunglasses:


oh thanks ! i would have miss this one :astonished:

the tool search from the site with ’ diminished’ dont point to it … maybe a tag missing ?

very dense and interesting again … wow great sound with easy ideas … love that so much (but Tuomo applying this always so fast, i need 3 times reviewing it to understand , hopefully it is recorded :smile: )

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Prior to developing my interest in Brazilian music (thanks mainly to Jovino’s totes awesome material in PG), I had never had occasion really to pay much attention to diminished chords, and then diminished scales.

You would periodically get a diminished triad in the types of more ‘soulful’ and jazz flavoured rock that I dig (Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and the Doobie Brothers have all used them), and in a funk context from the likes of the Average White Band (half and whole diminished 7’s). A quote that sticks in my mind from when I first set out teaching myself music about 4 years ago came from a no doubt well-intentioned approach, but described it as the chord ‘you wouldn’t take home to meet your mother’! Not to mention the variations on the ‘ugly’ chord theme!

But I now love the sound especially within a Bossa Nova context. It does sound slightly questioning and an ‘unsure’ colour as a type of harmony, and can sound a little spacey and ethereal at times too, depending on the voicing. I must admit I do find if I want to soften the sound, and depending on the voice leading, I do add a whole note above one of the tones

When I have more time I am for sure going to be focusing on this! thanks for the reminders all about the location of the lessons :smiley:

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I’ll look into that… thanks! :ok_hand:

Yes you will notice some similarities with Jovino’s lesson, and some different perspectives too.

For me, that’s the fascinating thing about diminished theory - and jazz theory in general - that there is lots of different ways of looking at the same thing.

I always communicate to our teachers to play and demonstrate slowly… but sometimes this is easier said than done I think! At least we have the slow down controls :grinning:

:joy: That’s an interesting way to describe a diminished chord, and I must say I agree :grin:

An “ah-ha” moment for me was to realise that every diminished chord can function as 4 different rootless dominant b9 chords.

So for example Edim7 (E-G-Bb-Db) can function as a rootless dominant b9 chord for C7, it’s tritone F#7/Gb7, and then also A7 and it’s tritone Eb7. For each of those chords, the diminished chord gives us 3-5-b7-b9.

Interestingly, if we put the roots of those rootless dominant b9 chords together, we get another diminished chord (C-Eb-Gb-A) and then if we combine that diminished chord with the original diminished chord, we get the diminished scale, or “double diminished” concept.

I love how Tuomo refers to it as “a spine to all harmonic movement”.

Yes I think ‘unsure’ is a really nice way to describe the colour of diminished harmony.

And yes i agree the diminished chord is so perfectly suited to Bossa grooves and gives that ‘floating sense of uncertainty’. Often very subtle, and always very effective.

I’m working on some interesting applications of diminished harmony for the upcoming arrangement of “Someone to watch over me” which topped our ballad poll by some way! :astonished:

The A section of the tune is packed full of diminished chords:

This will probably be more up your street than mine Jamie.... check out Chick Corea's recording of the tune:

I like some of the quartal stuff he is doing, and will likely incorporate some of this into the arrangement.

In general, when I play Gershwin’s work I tend to ‘reign it in’ a little more than Chick’s performance here - I often find it a challenge to be so ‘avant-garde’ with Gershwin’s delicate harmonies.

I remember @Pierrot said he was waiting for some “craziness” during my performance of Embraceable You … maybe it will come out this time Pierre in “Someone to watch over me”… i will have to see where the arrangement takes me :grinning:


hey James
could you explain a bit more

:joy: yeah i love this description too
even not my sensation with diminished harmony … more as “chord i would like to take home” but that dont have the same grid , and sound much less selling i admit :slight_smile:

i cant wait hearing this arrangement … :wink:

:clown_face: little trick for me : I find the shape of half whole scale very similar with the 3 groups on C G and F (Kent Hewitt point it too in his above video) they have all this little bridge of 2 black notes btw the 1 and 4 degrees ,that helps a lot remembering the scales and combining the C, G Dm triads for the thumb its cool. This shape have already been learned in the altered scales.

I admit the diminished Half whole scales which we can play on dominant chords and the diminished whole half scales on diminished chords make things a bit confusing when looking the fingering to use

so i apply this heavy method :sweat:
HW to WH C HW= Db WH half tone up = E WH a major third up = G WH a fourth up = Bb a minor seventh up
I have now the half whole HW scales pretty in the hands but when i have to find the right scale to apply on some chords i refer to this HW even for dominant chords . To find the right diminished scales for instance on C7 its the C HW easy under the finger
on C° its the C WH arg for me not easy to find the corresponding fingering so with the forumla above it is G HW which i have easy under the fingers. But hard to find and not helpful in live playing

Any Trick or other method that could help quickly find the WH scales when knowing the HW scales ?

Thanks for your help

ps . it may look a little messy. though i will try write more about because writing all this stuff helps me to better overview all this complicate theory

Hi Pierre - I can’t remember where I heard this, it may have been on Pianogroove or elsewhere! But yes, basically just adding the note a whole step above any of the diminished 7 tones. you’d think it would sound even more dissonant, given you’re adding a half-step interval somewhere within a stack of three minor thirds over the root, but I think it sounds interesting.

Hayden will be able to explain better than me though!

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Yes I think this ties nicely into the ‘shadow concept’ and an interesting point for discussion…

If we take the notes of a diminished 7th chord, let’s again take Edim7:


If we play that Edim7 chord in our left hand, and then in the right hand, play a note a whole step above one of those tones, we get a more complex diminished sound.

Furthermore, if we play the Edim7 chord in our left hand, and then in our right hand we build a chord by combining those 4 notes (a whole step above everything in the left hand) we then get the double diminished.

So in effect, that whole step relationship is a nice way to visualise the diminished scale and then we can use that to visualise more complex diminished voicings and/or interesting diminished melodies.

Let’s apply this into a 251:

If we look at that Edim7 chord as a C7b9, let’s see how we can apply this to a 251 in F Major (G-7 / C7b9 / Fmaj7)

  • First play G-7/G-9/G-11 for the ii-7 chord

  • Then for the V7 chord, play Edim7 in our left hand which functions as rootless C7b9, and in our right hand, play that diminished chord built a whole step up, or perhaps just one note from that chord, and listen to where it wants to resolve into the Imaj7 chord Fmaj7…

  • The Gb and the Eb from gives some interesting tension and resolution points. My ears hear that Gb resolving up a half step into the 9th of Fmaj, and the Eb can go either up, or down a half step to the 7th or 6th of Fmaj.

Using this ‘whole step’ or ‘shadow concept’ gives us an interesting way to create and resolve tension in 251s.

Lots to experiment with there!

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Thanks @anon84688975 and @Hayden Happy to be able to talk aroud this diminished harmony . It helps getting more inside . Manipulating all this in different point of view.

but i have to fix some question before . Hayden did you read my post above with this question Any Trick or other method that could help quickly find the WH scales when knowing the HW scales ?. Or did you not understand what i was trying to ask with my delightful english :slight_smile:

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Yep this discussion has opened my mind to some new ideas with diminished harmony.

For me personally Pierre, I do not look at HW and WH as 2 different things Pierre.

There is 2 ways that diminished harmony is taught, and I have actually been taught both approaches by different teachers.

The approach that I now prefer is:

  • There are only 3 diminished scales. The HW/WH way of thinking is an ‘unnecessary duplication’ making 3 scales into 6.

  • Each of those 3 diminished scales can be used to derive melody and harmony over 4 diminished chords, and also the 4 related dominant chords.

  • The key is to memorise the groups, and then you can use diminished material from a particular diminished scale over all of the harmonies in the group.

I’ve been meaning to revisit diminished theory and add more lessons on this, perhaps even remove the HW lesson as now I believe that the HW/WH approach is more of a complication than a simplification. Some musicians may disagree with this, but that’s how I currently feel.

I’ve been meaning to make some kind of lesson following this structure:

  1. Explore and demonstrate a diminished scale run or pattern

  2. Apply this same run/pattern to all harmonies in the group to show how the same melodic or harmonic idea can be superimposed over different harmonies.

  3. Demonstrate the run/pattern over a jazz standard(s) in context of a 251, and also over a diminished chord.

That is the format I like to follow with PianoGroove lessons - Show(1), Explain(2), Demonstrate(3) - and I think a lesson highlighting this process would be an awesome tool to help students add diminished sounds to their playing.

Leave it with me and I will plan the lesson out and find some nice jazz standard examples that we are all familiar with.


oh seems very what i am looking for !!

yes i feel and hear the same about all you tell with the 3 groups and WH and HW as a same thing …
for the moment just cant join this all

but i know it takes time for incorporation such theory in our playing , but love so much this added color … i will keep it going is slow way

happy to hear that … just have to wait for it thanks Hayden

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Hi Hayden.
I’ve completed every lesson on diminished chords on the site that I can find and am on my second time through. It has made a huge difference to my approach to dominant chords in particular and I have practiced the scales to the point where I can now play them quite fluently starting on any note. I have two questions:

  1. I’m still confused about the terminology. Is the c diminished scale
    a) C Db D# E F# G A Bb C or
    b) C D D# F F# G# A B C or
    c) both
    A and b are two different scales. Presumably they must be used under different circumstances. I’ve read through this thread and I notice that @Pierrot mentions in a post that the hw scale is used with dominant chords and the wh with diminished chords. I suppose that makes sense since the first contains a flat seventh and the second a major 7th. Can you clarify the circumstances under which one would be used rather than the other?
  2. I like the run in thirds that you suggest for “Some Day my Prince will Come.” But I’m tying my fingers in knots trying to work out each diminished scale in thirds. Do you know of a suggested fingering chart for diminished scales?

Hey @George_Miller

what you play on diminished chord the WholeHalf WhWhWhWh scale so it is named the Diminished scale or Whole-half diminished scale.

The halfwhole scale hWhWhWhW on the dominant chords (ex C7b9) are sometimes named Dominant diminished scales (that may have confuse you )

on dominant chords (exC7#9b13) we can play the altered scale hWh WWWW is called Diminished Whole-Tone (because first part hW then only whole ) , Super Locrian, and Dim-Whit scale another strange names :slight_smile:

hope it helps

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Thanks @Pierrot The way the altered scale was explained to me was a scale derived from the subdominant (Db for C7) that is major in the upper half and minor in the lower half. Db C Bb Ab Gb E Eb Db resolving to C. But I don’t understand why both diminished scales can’t be played with a diminished chord. Both scales hit the diminished notes, with the intervening notes a half tone above or below the diminished ones. Is it something to do with the context, ie: the key of the underlying piece?

Totally agree with that both hW and Wh work on diminished chords for my ears too . Let see what our teachers @Hayden @Tuomo @Jovino say about.

Thanks Pierrot
:sunglasses: :+1:

Hi guys, @Pierrot thanks for tagging!

Here are my thoughts on diminished scale/chord.

First, keep in mind that I always try, and suggest students as well, to simplify as much as possible.

I always think of the diminished scale as ONLY whole tone/ half tone, and here’s why:

Let’s start with the ACTUAL diminished chord, here D dim:

Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 7.30.37 PM
Now, when we really try to hear the essence of diminished chord, there are only the following chord tones possible (works the same way as with any chord, the “extra” chord tones after the 7th (9, 11 and 13) will be added as colors, but they are not the “main” tones):

Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 7.36.22 PM

Now, if you look at the extra chord tones of the full diminished chord, you can notice that the added tones are actually an approach notes, half step below to all of the main chord tones:

Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 7.41.04 PM

And, if you look at it this way, here’s your diminished scale!

You might think that this still could work with half/whole tone as well, but the function of a chord behind half/whole is not a true diminished, it works as a dominant chord, just as @Pierrot mentioned:

How I see the diminished chord used over a dominant, comes again together with the II V thinking; D-7 G7 becomes D diminished (so of course G7b9), so the scale I would use is

Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 7.47.17 PM

This way of thinking simplifies diminished in other situations as well, for example a tonic diminished (meaning diminished chord resolving to I), here in the key of C major:

Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 7.49.48 PM

Let me know if you guys have any questions/ideas!



Here are fingerings for diminished thirds (that work for me):


Thanks @Tuomo. I can definitely see that the HW scale suggests a dominant in the II-V-I example, but I’m not sure why the “approach” explanation wouldn’t work for a diminished chord if the scale is run from the top down. Wouldn’t the notes labelled as 9th, 7th 5th and b9 then be the approach notes leading into a D dim chord?
Thanks for the fingering chart. It’s funny but I can actually see the diminished scales better in thirds! Whether I can play it is another matter!