Last updated on August 10th, 2023
Diminished scales are some of the most ambiguous scales in music and are often misunderstood as to how they are used. However, they are very satisfying to play once you understand how they can be used to spice up your improvisation.
We’ll first learn some music theory about how diminished scales work, learn the scale shapes on guitar and then we’ll look at some musical examples to apply them.
Diminished scales music theory
Diminished scales are built on 7 notes with a repeating sequence of whole and half steps. There are two types of diminished scales: the whole half diminished scale and the half whole diminished scale.
Let’s look at the scale formulas with some examples below.
Whole half diminished scale
For this scale formula, we start with a whole step, then a half step, and repeat this pattern. The formula is whole, half, whole, half, whole, half, and whole step. For example, a C whole half diminished scale has the notes C, D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, A, and B. In terms of scale degrees, the notes are the root, 2nd, flat 3rd, 4th, flat 5th, flat 6th, 6th, and 7th.
Whole half diminished scale chart
Here are some examples of whole half diminished scales below.
|Whole half diminished scale||1||2||b3||4||b5||b6||6||7|
|C whole half diminished||C||D||Eb||F||Gb||Ab||A||B|
|C# whole half diminished||C#||D#||E||F#||G||A||A#||C|
|D whole half diminished||D||E||F||G||Ab||Bb||B||C#|
Half whole diminished scale
For this scale formula, we start with a half step, then a whole step, and repeat this pattern. The formula is half, whole, half, whole, half, whole, and half step. For example, a C whole half diminished scale has the notes C, Db, Eb, E, F#, G, A, and Bb. In terms of scale degrees, the notes are the root, flat 2nd, flat 3rd, 3rd, sharp 4th, 5th, 6th, and flat 7th.
Half whole diminished scale chart
Here are some examples of half whole diminished scales below.
|Half whole diminished scale||1||b2||b3||3||#4||5||6||b7|
|C half whole diminished||C||Db||Eb||E||F#||G||A||Bb|
|C# half whole diminished||C#||D||E||F||G||G#||A#||B|
|D half whole diminished||D||Eb||F||F#||G#||A||B||C|
Related diminished scales
Here is an interesting fact about diminished scales which saves you time to learn the scale in different keys.
The diminished scale is symmetrical because the whole and half step intervals patterns repeat. Because of this, one scale shares the same notes as another scale that is a minor 3rd interval away. For example:
- C diminished scale shares the same notes as the Eb, Gb, and A diminished scale. The only difference is that the starting points are different.
- C# diminished scale shares the same notes as the E, G, and Bb diminished scale.
- D diminished scale shares the same notes as the F, Ab, and B diminished scale.
Essentially, you can play the diminished scale in all 12 keys if you know the C, C#, and D diminished scale!
Whole half diminished scale shapes on guitar
In this section, we’ll be covering the four whole half diminished scale shapes in several positions of the guitar fretboard.
How to read the scale charts
For the charts below:
- The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E).
- The green circles represent the root note of the diminished scale and the blue notes are every scale note in between.
- The numbers inside the circles represent the suggested fingering to use on your fretting hand.
If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.
W/H diminished shape 1
On the 1st shape, I include a suggested fingering that you can use for all the other shapes. The root notes are highlighted in green.
For diminished scales, the guitar scale shapes look exactly the same starting every minor 3rd interval or every 3 frets across one string. Even though the shapes look the same, it’s helpful to keep in mind where your root notes are.
W/H diminished shape 2
W/H diminished shape 3
W/H diminished shape 4
Half whole diminished scale shapes
Now, let’s look at the four half whole diminished guitar scale shapes. Again, the fingerings are the same as the previous shapes but keep in mind how the scale degrees shift.
H/W diminished shape 1
H/W diminished shape 2
H/W diminished shape 3
H/W diminished shape 4
Connecting diminished scale shapes
Here are some examples of how you can connect between different scale shapes below.
H/W diminished scale connecting shape
W/H diminished scale connecting shape
Diminished scale application examples
Now, we’ll look at how some musical examples of how you can use diminished scales.
I suggest using the whole half diminished scale whenever you see a diminished chord. For example, use the C# whole half diminished scale over a C# diminished chord.
I suggest using the half whole diminished over dominant chords. For example, use a C half whole diminished scale over a C7 chord.
For a quick overview, diminished chords have the chord tones 1, b3, and b5 while diminished 7 chords have the chord tones 1, b3, b5, and 6. If needed, check out this post on how to play diminished chords on guitar.
Examples 1 through 3 show you how whole half diminished scales can be used in a chord progression.
Examples 4 through 6 show you how half whole diminished scales can be used in a chord progression.
To learn other ways to play over a dominant chords, check out these jazz licks and blues licks over a dominant chord.
Even though a diminished scale shares the same notes with other scales a minor 3rd interval away, you can practice writing them out starting on different root notes to learn them better.
You can practice writing them yourself using a tool like the My Music Composition Notebook which has printable sheet music and simple guides on notation or use software such as Musescore where you can input notes from your computer.
For other ideas on developing your improvisational vocabulary, check out these 9 ways to make your melody lines sound jazzy.
All the best,