• Master the Diminished Scale In 2 Seconds

    in Experienced players,Piano,Scales,Theory

    The other day, I answered a question regarding popular gospel scales one can play — and the diminished scale was on my list.

    But it haunted me because this is a pretty big scale… 8 notes to be exact. It’s what we call an octatonic scale. Octa = 8.

    (Incidentally, there’s such a thing as pentatonic scales, which have 5 notes. Hexatonic scales have 6 (like blues scales). Heptatonic scales have 7 (like major scales). And here we are at a diminished scale, which has 8).

    I knew many wouldn’t even try to learn the diminished scale in all 12 keys because it simply has too many notes. (Well, I take that back… 80% wouldn’t try but there are those “dedicated few” — the 20% — who make an effort tackle stuff like this).

    How to play any diminished scale in seconds

    So here’s what you do to play any diminished scale. The ONLY prerequisite is that you know your diminished 7 chords, which are pretty easy because there’s only really 3 of them.

    C Diminished 7 (C + Eb + Gb + A) — The “A” should really be named “Bbb” but let’s keep it simple.

    C# Diminished 7 (C# + E + G + Bb) — Yes, you can mix sharps and flats. See these two lessons here and here.

    D Diminished 7 (D + F + Ab + B) — The “B” should really be named “Cb” but again, let’s keep it simple here.

    If you learn these 3, you can play all the other diminished chords. In other words, you can transform the D Diminished 7 chord above into an F diminished 7 chord by simply taking the D off the bottom and putting it on the top:

    F diminished 7 (F + Ab + B + D) — again, written in slang or else it’d be F + Ab + Cb + Ebb

    So basically, the D diminished 7 has the same notes as the F diminished 7, which has the same notes as the B diminished 7, which has the same notes as the Ab diminished 7. All the notes in the chord share the same notes in their own respective chords. That’s why you only need to know 3 distinct sets of diminished chords.

    One Step To Master The Diminished Scale

    Now that you know your chords, this is the only step you have to do.

    Identify the half steps before each individual note in the chord.

    Remember, half steps are from key to key with no keys in between. Whole steps always skip a key with one key in between.

    Now, you’d skip the first note but don’t worry, we’ll get back to it at the END of our scale since scales start and end on the same note.

    And I’m not too concerned with the spelling here… just the quick concept. So pick sharp or flat… your call.

    If we were to do this with the D diminished 7:

    First, we identify the regular notes of this chord:

    D + F + Ab + B

    Now, just slide in half step notes between each tone. Remember, we’re slipping notes half-steps BEFORE so notice how we slip an “E” before the “F”… a “G” before the “Ab”… a “Bb” before the “B”… and “Db” before the “D.”

    D + (E) + F + (G) + Ab + (Bb) + B + (Db) + D

    (Notice, we didn’t put a half step in front of the first D because it started our scale… but we did insert a half-step note prior to the last “D.” That’s how it works).

    So you have 4 notes in your regular chord… and 4 “inserted” notes which happen to be half steps before your original notes. Pretty simple!

    Another Diminished Scale Revelation

    Notice anything interesting about the notes we inserted: E + G + Bb + Db?

    Maybe not in that order. How about in this order and alternate spelling:

    C# Diminished 7 (C# + E + G + Bb)

    (This is the same chord ordered differently and with C# instead of Db).

    So the half-step notes you added also form a diminished chord of their own!

    That means the diminished scale is nothing more than two diminished chords superimposed on top of each other.

    But for now, I think the easiest way to think about the diminished scale is to take one diminished chord and basically fill in the notes a half-step before each note of your chord.

    I know my promise was big in the title of this lesson but didn’t I deliver?

    That’s my philosophy — to take the complicated and make it drop dead simple. Elsewhere, the name of the game is to sound the smartest… I guess to compete with other professions like doctors and lawyers. “Music has terminology and theory too!” they must say. Well, I don’t care for all that. I just want you to play!

    If you haven’t invested in one or more of my courses to keep this cause going, check out my selection.

    Well, there you have it. A simple 2-second method to play any diminished scale you want.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 66 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Joe

    This is great jermaine. You always at work on our behalf coming up with memorable ways to master complicated things. Thank you for your dedication. I’d think many would be on here thanking you more. Well this old man thanks you.



    2 Godswill

    Thaks for being a blessing to me.


    3 marquita

    Thank you for being A Blessing to us all May the Lord our God Bless you and your work and most of all your family. Thank you for All the hard work. God Bless.


    4 Louis

    Excellent stuff Jermaine, may God continue to bless you to be a blessing to us..God bless


    5 mobolade benjamin

    what a nice stuff sir,may God continue to bless you.more wisdom, knowledge,understanding.


    6 Emmanuel

    Hey Jermaine, having said somethings about the diminished scale, how about a simple song example that can be played with the diminished chords or where to insert diminished chords like the ones you gave here?


    7 rick

    bravo, too many get concerned about concepts but cant make music…


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    63 Ebenezer

    Thanks man, that was quite good. But I think you have to go striaght to the scale first before before explaining the chord, because chords are actually born from scale.
    Anyway its a nice concept !!


    64 Alan

    Excellent teaching style. However, you left out a most important element. The rh and lh fingering for not only the C# diminished scale, but all diminished scales. The half whole whole-half variations and fingerings were not explained. Otherwise, excellent.
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