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I want to spice up my solos over a Blues progression. I already can play a variety of scales but the Diminished scale is something I would like to add because of the particular sounds it creates. In what ways would I use it to enhance the solo? Thanks.

5 Answers 5

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In a standard 12-bar I-IV-V blues progression (here in F)

||: F7 | F7 | F7 | F7 |

| Bb7 | Bb7 | F7 | F7 |

| C7 | Bb7 | F7 | C7 :||

there are three places where you should start trying to incorporate the diminished scale:

  1. bar 4, where the F7 chord can be interpreted as a dominant chord resolving to Bb7. Here you can add tension by using the half-whole scale (F-Gb-Ab-A-B-C-D-Eb) which adds some altered tensions to the F7 chord that resolve nicely to the Bb7 chord.

  2. The second place is bar 6 where Bb7 moves to F7. Here we cannot simply interpret Bb7 as a dominant chord resolving to its I-chord, because in this case it should be followed by a chord with root Eb (Bb is the V of Eb). However, in your solo you can substitute the Bb7 chord in bar 6 by a B diminished seventh chord (Bdim7). This basically just means to move the root up by one half step and leave all other chord tones unchanged. You do this substitution by simply playing the B diminished scale (whole-half) over the Bb7 chord in bar 6. In this way you create tension which resolves to the F7 chord in bar 7 (Bdim7 resolves to F7/C). This substitution (Bdim7 for Bb7 in bar 6) is commonly done in a jazz-blues. But even if the chord is played as a Bb7, you can do this substitution in your solo.

  3. The last place is bar 12 where the C7 chord is the dominant chord resolving to F7 in bar 1. Here you just do the same as in bar 4 (but with root C instead of F): you add tension by playing the C half-whole scale over C7 which resolves to F7.

The 3 bars mentioned above are the most obvious choices for using the diminished scale in a I-IV-V blues. Of course you can play the diminished (half-whole) over every dominant-seventh chord, but if you do this in a simple blues progression, you will stop sounding bluesy.

If you're interested in using different scales over a blues progression, you should check out this example by Oz Noy: Scales over 12-bar Blues

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  • Excellent explanation in the 12-bar format. I appreciate everyone for their input.
    – r lo
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 15:23
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Consider the half whole diminished scale: R b9 b3 3 #4 5 6 b7 R

All notes except one are very commonly used in blues soloing.

the inclusion of both the b3 and 3 gives the essence of blues (mixing major and minor). The 'blues note' (b5/#4) is there. All of the chord tones are there. The 6 is there. So it suits blues very well.

Try these over a dominant chord: (notes for an A7)

b3 3 R (C C# A)

.#4 5 b7 R (D# E G A)

6 b7 R (F# G A)

They are all very familiar sounding blues licks.

However the b9 is very rare in traditional blues. The fact the scale has only one 'outside' note (in a blues context) makes this scale a great introduction to more outside jazz & fusion style blues. As for your question, to incorporate it into your own playing you use that same method as you would (or should..) for any other scale: learn licks! Listen to jazz and fusion and you'll hear this scale often.

Here a short one to get you started (in A)

A C C# E G Bb C C# A

All ascending except for the final C# to A.

I won't mention the whole half dim. scale as it is nowhere near as useful in a blues context for reasons that should be obvious:
R 2 b3 4 b5 b6 6 7 R

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There are two diminished scales, the half/whole and the whole/half. This translates ,in C,as C,Db, Eb, E, F#,G, A, Bb, for the first, as it jumps semitone/tone, etc. The other works starting with C, D, Eb etc.Both work best over a diminished chord. I have used note names as they came, not particularly accurately.

To fit into a solo, one way is to look at a bar, say, C7, and check which notes will fall on , say, beats 1 and 3. A run of triplets using the first 6 of the half/whole would put a C on beat one, E on beat two. If that was repeated, it would mesh in with the C chord underlying.

You may find that the other sounds better - or continue the rest of the bar going up. Key notes fit in key places, sometimes with a bit of re-timing, but that's what it's about .Try it. If it sounds good, it probably is.And vice versa...

If you're thinking just of the notes a tone and a half apart, they fit best over a diminished chord, more like an arpeggio.

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  • Sounds like the diminished scale is creating tension wrapping around chord tones by a half step. Therefore a stronger resolution to the chord tones. Sounds like an example of a riff in Bebop soloing where you kind of wrap around the chord tones.
    – r lo
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 18:06
  • A diminished arp. Starting from any chord tone of a dominant chord Gives all the chord tones and one tension note: a b9 which resolves nicely to the root
    – Fergus
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 20:16
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What Fergus said is true if you start a diminished arpegio from any chord tone but the root. Lets say you are playing over A7 (A C# E G) If you start a diminished chord over the 3th, C# you get C# E G A# over the 5th, E you get E G A# C# over the 7th, G you get G A# C# E

All the above had the same chord tones as a rootless A7 b9

But if you start a diminished chord from the root of A, you will not get those notes.

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Many people are limited in their use of the diminished octatonic scale because they restrict their use of it to chords that fall exactly within the scale. While being exact is admirable, it only gets us so far! Try using the Whole-half scale over the entire blues. Looking at the W/H, we see it's missing something we usually rely on: a perfect 5th scale degree. So we can add that one note and open up a world of possibilities. Or we can delay the appearance of that note and build tension. Let's look at an F blues using F, G, Ab, Bb, B, (C), Db, D, E: What we have here that we don't have with the Half/whole is the 4th scale degree, Bb. That's an essential note in building blues lines. What's unusual over the F7 chord is the E natural, the Maj 7 instead of flat 7. But think of many Parker blues, and you will realize why he liked the maj7 as a I chord in blues: it opens up the melodic strength of the leading tone. Listen to Bessie Smith or other old blues singers, and you will hear the maj 7 scale degree used melodically repeatedly. You may think this collection of notes are more appropriate for a minor blues progression, and of course, you're right, they are perfect for minor blues as well! Even in dominant blues, we will often hear the subdominant minor function pop up, in this case as a Bb min or an Eb7 in the 6th bar before resolving back to F. Or if we use the #IV dim 7 in that bar, we can still emphasize the b6 scale degree, creating a Db7/B sort of sound. "What about the C7?" you ask. (I know you must have asked by now!) Well, this is a very special use of the diminished scale, because we're using it over a chord whose root isn't even in the scale! But it is in my Diminished Plus One scale. And we have the entire C7b9 chord available plus the b13. "Okay, great -- but what about the Gm7 that proceeds it?" Well, a Gm7 is also contained in there, as is a Gm7b5 if you prefer (a very cool alternative ii chord for blues!), but more importantly a G7 altered is available (or tritone substitute Db7). So all the bases are covered. Except maybe that pesky little flat 7 (Eb) that you know and love so well. So throw it in there too; now you are using a 10-tone scale, but why not? It's still based on the 8-tone diminished scale that you have practiced and mastered. Please try this before you pooh-pooh the idea! You'll have some fun, I think.

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