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Jazz Guitar Lessons

Creating Lines with the 6th Diminished Scale

Ivan Gygi

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In this exclusive JGT lesson, Ivan Gygi provides some valuable tips on how to create lines with the 6th Diminished Scale.

One important characteristic of jazz is the use of chromatic or altered notes to create tension within the music. Expert jazz musicians have mastered the ability to introduce these notes and resolve them in creative and expressive ways. 

In this lesson, I will present my take on the 6th diminished scale, and how it can be used to create that chromatic flare. Because the chordal use of this scale has been covered extensively by the likes of Barry Harris and other jazz educators, I will be focusing more on its linear possibilities. 

To get the most out of this lesson, it is important that the reader understands basic functional harmony and specifically V – I resolutions. 

What is the 6th Diminished Scale?

The 6th diminished scale is a major scale with an added chromatic note between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. Another name for the scale is the major bebop scale. It looks like this.

This added note creates a unique set of diatonic arpeggios that alternate between the tense sound of the V7b9, (The diminished 7th chords are a common sub for V7) and the resolved sound of I6. In this case we have G7b9 and C6. 

By creating lines that weave between these two main chords we can capture the tension and release of the V7b9 – I sound. 

It is also important to understand that because C6 and A-7 chords share the same notes, this scale can also be used and analyzed in the relative minor key. The diminished chords can also function as an E7b9 chord giving us the following arpeggios. 

Lines Using the Four-Note Diatonic Arpeggios

When I improvise with this scale I am usually thinking in terms of harmonic generalization. For example, If I am playing over a ii7 – V7 – I     progression, I would play the 6th diminished scale of the I chord throughout. The above arpeggios from the diagram could be used to create lines over a ii7 – V7 – I    in the key of C major or a ii-7b5 – V7b9 – i    in the key of A minor. 

Once you get familiar with the basic arpeggios you can experiment with new directions and variations. 

Creating Lines Using Triads

Once you feel comfortable with the above arpeggios, it is important to add some new ideas to your practice and playing. Playing the scale in triads is one of my favorite exercises. In the case of this scale, not every arpeggio will form a traditional triad, but the concept of stacked thirds still works. Here is what that looks like in the key of C.

You can generate lines over    ii – V – I    progressions in a similar way. 

Creating Lines Using 3rds

Another way to weave through the scale is by playing 3ths. Here is what that looks like.

Example lines over  ii – V – I  progression,

Combining it All Together

Once you are comfortable with playing the scale in all these different ways, it is time to create lines that combine all these patterns and ideas. Start by composing lines and writing them down. Here are some of the lines that I have written down. 

Example Solo Over Changes To “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

In this solo I tried to use the 6th diminished scale as much as possible. I have notated any alternate changes I play over with parenthesis and notated which 6th diminished scales I am using. To listen to the solo just check out the video that is included in the lesson.

Develop Your Own Sound 

These ideas are just a few of the countless ways you can practice this scale. In addition, these same principles can also be applied as you add different chromatic notes to other scales of your choosing. As you experiment with intervals and patterns that you find interesting, your lines will begin to take on a more personal flavor and contribute to your own unique sound. 

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