How to deal with a diminished chord?
Last week while working on a Jazz piece with one of my guitar students, I struck a problem.
We were soloing over this piece and everything was fine until we hit one chord.
The diminished chord.
Now as a Guitar Teacher with well over 10 years experience and as a graduate of Jazz school, you’d think that a little old diminished chord shouldn’t be a problem.
Here’s the thing, I never really had to deal with these chords to much.
When I had to play them at Jazz school it was more a case of just play what my teacher told me to play worry about what I actually played later.
I vaguely remember learning what scales to use over it and when to, but anyone that has attended a Jazz school will know that you a given so much information in such a short amount of time that you just try make as much of it stick as possible and forget the rest.
So here I am in this predicament of not knowing what to use over a diminished chord.
I owned up to my student and told him that I will look into this for next week for you.
I told him in the mean time use the half-whole or whole-half scale.
I knew the concept of these two scales and roughly how to play them and that they would work over a diminsihed chord quite nicely.
However, I wanted a go-to scale or mode for a diminished chord.
Thanks to Matt Warnock I have discovered it.
Matt is my go-to for anything Jazz or theory realted. He explains things in such a clear way that it makes it very easy to pick up.
The scale I came across is the Mixolydian #1.
I think we called it something different at Jazz school but I don’t really remember.
It is the 7th mode of the harmonic minor scale and is very easy to play.
Here is Matt’s rundown on it;
This is a weird one. It is built like a Mixolydian Mode with a raised root, strange huh? Then it sounds like a dimMaj7 chord in some instances, and an Altered Dominant in others. The most common application of this mode is over a dim7 chord, as an alternative to the traditional Diminished Scale. But, it can also be used over a Dominant 7th chord a half-step below the root of the mode. So for C7 you could use C# Mixolydian #1, which produces a C7(b9) chord without a root.
Here is the interval structure for this mode:
AR – M2 – M3 – P4 – P5 – M6 – m7 – AR
Or in the key of C# (or C depending on how you look at it) the notes are:
C# – D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C#
This mode is definitely unique, and one that can be used to spice up any solo over a dim7 or 7 chord with the right approach. Experiment with it in your practice room, you might come up with enough material to bring it out on the gig and make it a regular part of your vocabulary.
The Harmonic Minor Scale is a powerful tool for improvisors, composers and arrangers. One that is often pushed aside in favor of the Melodic Minor Modes and the ever popular Major Modes. But, if you are looking to expand your harmonic vocabulary, in a way that offers distinctive tonal colors and interesting chord sounds, then check out the Harmonic Minor Modes, they may be just what you are looking for.