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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Soloing over Diminished Chords

Tuesday Nov.1/11

Other than getting over a cold and surviving Halloween (not my favourite holiday by any stretch), I have been practising and teaching as usual. I 'm looking forward to a gig I have this Thursday with my old friend and great vocalist Vincent Wolfe. I haven't played with Vince for quite a long time so this should be a good time. We always mix in a lot of laughter in with good music. Bassist Mark Dunn is also on the gig which is nice. Great player and good friend.

Been listening to more Keith Jarrett Trio as well as the Brad Mehldau Trio "Art of the Trio II Live at the Village Vanguard".  I was actually there in the audience when they recorded this record. I was down in New York with a friend of mine John Pucic and we had no idea that the gig was being recorded until we got there. Great night of music. I remember waiting for the band to get on stage as the club was packed plus the added energy of a recording crew ready to capture some incredible music and onto the stage walks this guy with messy hair and a plaid shirt and jeans. I thought he might be either the janitor or maybe the piano tuner as he touched a few keys. He then sits down and starts playing and wow, that is no regular piano technician. He played solo for a couple of minutes before being joined, in the same manner, by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. The trio is smoking and has that high level improvising but moving as a group thing as the Jarrett trio. Brad Mehldau is one of my favourite pianists and this group is definitely one of my favourite piano trios as well. Brad joins the ranks of Bill Evans, Jarrett, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays and Herbie Hancock in my books for sure.

Here's a lesson tip that I show my more advanced jazz students. Improvising over diminished chords can be problematic as they can be quite predictable when using either the arpeggio of the chord or the diminished scale (half step/whole step).  An approach that works for me is using the fairly uncommon major pentatonic b2 scale which is made up of the Root, b2, 3rd, 5th and 6th. Notice the 2nd has been lowered a semitone from the original major pentatonic scale. You can then use this scale a semi-tone down from the root of the chord as well as it's other three sister notes. The diminished chord is symmetrical which means it's made up of min. 3rd intervals which start again after you have reached the fourth note. Since there are 12 notes in the western major scale and four of the notes are really from the same chord, there are only three different diminished chords essentially. (G, Bb, Db, E) (Ab, B, D, F) and (A, C, Eb Gb). In the video I am using a Imaj7 iidim7th ii-7 V7 progression in G. The diminished chord is Ab diminished 7th and the major pentatonic b2 scales that you can use to improvise over that chord are G ( a semi-tone down from the root), Bb, Db and E.



  1. Great lesson, Sean, thanks!! Indeed, you are so right...whenever a dim chord comes around, I hit the old boring arpeggio. Now I'll have something fresh in the arsenal. Great teaching, man! Nice to get a freebie, hehe. Incidentally, I know you're subbing for Tony Q on Thursday - he's playing with me. I told him you worked with VW a lot so you were a natural choice for his gig. Let's do coffee...we've only been planning it for two years! :-)

  2. The best explanation of this concept that I've come across. Great teacher!