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Symmetrical Diminished Superimposition Part 1

A free lesson from www.RyanCarraher.com

Written by: Ryan Carraher (rcarraher@berklee.edu)

2014 Ryan Carraher All Rights Reserved

I: A Brief Introduction to the Diminished Scale

The symmetrical diminished scale is an 8-note scale comprised of a repeating intervallic


pattern. There are two forms of the symmetrical diminished scale: the half-whole (H/W)
and whole-half (W/H) diminished scale.

Formulas (in relation to the root of the scale):

Half-Whole: 1-b2-#2-3-#4-5-6-b7
Whole-Half: 1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-6-7

Scales from a C root:

Half-Whole: C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G-A-Bb
Whole-Half: C-D-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-A-B

Notice the repeating intervallic patterns:

Half-Whole: C to Db is a half step. Db to Eb is a whole step, Eb to E is a half step. E to


F# is a whole step and so on.
Whole-Half: C to D is a whole step. D to Eb is a half step. Eb to F is a whole step. F to
Gb is a half step and so on.

The next thing to know is that there are only 3 families of the diminished scale. Due to
this scales symmetrical nature any given diminished scale can be used over 4 diminished
chords. Thats right, the same exact scale can be used on 4 different diminished chords a
minor 3rd apart. For example, if you are using a C whole-half diminished scale on a C
dim7 chord you can use the same exact scale on Eb dim7, Gb dim7 and A dim7 as they
are the same chord as C dim7. These three families are listed below

Family 1: C, Eb, Gb and A


Family 2: C#, E, G and Bb
Family 3: B, D, F and G#
Before learning the following superimpositions of this symmetrical diminished scale it is
highly recommended that you are extremely familiar with the mechanics and inner
workings of the scale. You can accomplish this by doing some or all of the following:
Learn the diminished scale in all three families on the entire fretboard (diagrams
have been provided). When you look at these diagrams you will notice that if you
are using a C W/H and you start it from the 2nd degree you get a D H/W. If you
are using a C H/W and you start it from the 2nd degree you get a Db W/H.
Basically if you know the names of the notes contained in your starting scale and
you just alternate the W/H and H/W shapes every time you move to the next scale
degree you can work out the whole fretboard.
Sequence various intervals diatonically through the scales at various tempos and
time signatures.

II: Diminished 7 Chords

The most obvious use for either of these diminished scales is on a diminished 7 chord.
The most common scale used over a diminished 7 chord is the whole-half diminished
which is an 8 note scale constructed by alternating whole steps and half steps.

Why it works: the W/H scale over a diminished 7 chord works well because it contains
the four notes of the diminished chord it is being used on as well as four passing tones
(which form another diminished 7 chord a whole step above the root of the one you are
soloing on). These passing tones are also used as tensions 9, 11, b13 and natural 7.

Example: To solo on C7 you could use a C W/H which contains the following notes:

C-D-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-A-B

The highlighted notes are the chord tones of the C7 chord (C, Eb, Gb and A) while the
remaining notes (D, F, Ab and B) form a D7 chord and contains the tensions 9, 11, b13
and natural 7 when related to the root of C.

As mentioned before you can use the same diminished scale on 4 different diminished
chords a minor third apart. In the above example you can use the same exact C W/H scale
to solo on C7, Eb7, Gb7 and A7.

How to practice: Improvise using the W/H diminished scale on a static 7 vamp at
various tempos, time signatures and styles. First start out in a single position, then keep
adding positions one at a time until you are using the whole fretboard. Also, try to create
melodies on single strings. Utilize the sequenced intervals that you worked out in your
lines. Be sure to practice at slow tempos (less then 60 BPM) as this will allow you to
develop great control of your instrument and the scale.
III: Tension Resolution

Before we get into the other uses of diminished 7 chords it is extremely important to
understand the principle of tension resolution. Personally, I believe that you can play any
of the 12 notes over any chord. Every single note is available to you. There are no
wrong notes, you just have to know how to resolve them.

In an improvisational setting you are presented with chord changes and expected to solo
over them. To achieve this we typically use chord scales. Most chord scales contain two
things: the notes of the underlying harmony and other notes called tensions. The notes
of the underlying harmony are your safe notes. They are firm grounding that you can
always revert back to. Tensions are notes that add color to the chord and sound the
function of the chord. Some tensions sound great and some sound a little out there. It is
important to know where each tension resolves in order to create strong sounding lines.

Here is a chart of common resolutions of tensions. It is important to note that some


tensions have more then one resolution possibility and others, namely the altered
tensions, only have one.

b9: resolves down half step to root


9: resolves up to 3 (or b3 in minor) or down a whole step to the root
#9: resolves up a half step to third.
11: resolves to 3 (or b3 in minor) or up to 5th (or b5 on -7b5 or 7 chords)
#11: resolves up a half step to the 5th
b13: resolves down a half step to the 5th
13: resolves to the 5th or 7th

*note: that the 13th or b13th is typically an avoid note on minor chords but still can sound
great if these concepts are applied.
*note: these are just suggestions they are not concrete. Some times the music calls for the
tension to not be resolved. Use your ear.

IV: Dominant 7 Chords

Another very common use is to superimpose a H/W scale from the root of a dominant 7
chord.

Why it works: A diminished 7 chord contains the same notes as a dominant 7 b9 chord
with out the root of the dominant 7 b9 chord.

C7= C-Eb-Gb-A
B7b9: B-C-D# (Eb)-F#(Gb)-A
This also means that you can play the same diminished scale over 4 different dominant
chords a minor 3 apart. If you are using C H/W over C7 you can play the same scale on
Eb7, Gb7 and A7.

Tensions: If you were to play a C H/W over a C7 chord you would get the following
notes:

C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G-A-Bb

As you can see by the highlighted notes, this scale contains the chord tones of the C7
chord. It also contains tensions b9, #9, #11 and 13.

How to practice: Put on a static dominant 7 chord. Solo with the chord tones only first.
Then add a single tension that comes from the H/W scale from the root of that dominant
7 chord (for example, b9). Practice resolving this tension using the guidelines on tension
resolution mentioned earlier. Do this for all of the tensions individually. Combine all of
the tensions and vary tempo, style and time signature. Once you are comfortable using
the scale over a static chord apply it to a II-V progression or a tune you are working on.

V: Major 7 Chords

On a major 7 chord you can superimpose a W/H diminished from the root, b9 and 2. By
doing this you unlock all 12 tones and this is where tension resolution becomes very
important.

Why it works: Examples over C major 7

C W/H: C-D-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-A-B
Db W/H: Db-Eb-E-Gb-G-A-Bb-C
D W/H: D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb-B-C#

The highlighted notes are the chord tones and available diatonic tensions that are
contained in each of the possible superimpositions. As you can see each scale contains 4
notes that can be classified as either chord tones or available diatonic tensions while the
other 4 notes are altered tensions or the 11th (which is technically an avoid note over a
major 7 chord but can be used if resolved properly and properly placed within the
phrase). The highlighted pitches supply the diatonic notes that can effectively describe
the chord quality and function while also containing outside notes that are to be
resolved to the diatonic notes.

*note: typically an improviser will use one superimposition at a time and usually switch
which superimposition they use each chorus or appearance of a major 7 chord. However,
nothing is stopping you from using 2 or all 3 at the same time (it can sound really cool!).
Tensions: here are the tensions that each superimposition gives you:

W/H from root: 9, #9, 11, b13, 13


W/H from b9: b9, #9, #11, 13, b7
W/H from 2: 9, 11, b13, b7, b9

The highlighted notes are altered tensions and avoid notes. As you can see each scale
contains a fair amount of outside notes making tensions resolution an important part of
this concept. Due to the restful nature of major 7th chords this concept can really create
some out sounding lines that stretch the ear of the player and the listener.

How to practice: Put on a static major 7 chord. Solo with the chord tones only first. Pick a
single superimposition scale and then work on resolving each tension individually and
then combined. Repeat this process for the other superimpositions. Play in all 12 keys, at
various tempos, time signatures and styles. Next, apply these concepts to a II-V or a tune
you are working on.

In the example lines provided in this lesson you will find that I have note provided any
lines specifically labeled for use on a major 7 chord. This is because all eight of the lines
I have composed for this lesson can be tailored to fit a major 7 chord. By tailored I
mean that the notes can be changed to emphasize the chord tones and diatonic tensions
and properly resolving the outside pitches either directly (meaning the next note played
after the tension is the note of resolution) or indirectly (where the altered pitch is resolved
later in the phrase. Additional notes are played in between the tension and the resolution).

Also, you may have noticed that I did not cover minor 7 chord and minor 7b5 chords in
this lesson. This is part one of two. In the second part I will cover the concept of
harmonic generalization (which will cover minor 7 and minor 7b5 chords) as well as
deriving and using triad pairs, seventh chord pairs and hexatonics from the symmetrical
diminished scale.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson! Please share this lesson and feel free to contact me if you
have any questions or would like to schedule a one-on-one skype lesson with me.

Good luck!

-Ryan Carraher

rcarraher@berklee.edu
www.RyanCarraher.com

The next pages are scale diagrams and example lines.


2014 Ryan Carraher All Rights Reserved