How I Approach Improvising on Dominant 7th Chords – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd June 2021
I’ve mentioned many times in previous videos that jazz musicians love dominant chords. They love them because there’s so many different ways you can play on them. Depending on the context, you can get away with playing any note on a dominant chord. But it doesn’t help you learn how to improvise if you think “play anything”. It helps if you think about strategies for improvisation. I think everyone who improvises has at least some kind of strategy. And a more experienced improviser probably has many strategies to draw upon. So when you’re practicing improvisation, don’t just pick your favourite strategy. Practice as many strategies as you can think of. And then you never know what you might discover.
To me, every scale is a sound. Or it creates a particular sound against a specific chord. So, when I’m improvising, I’m thinking about sounds, not scales. But, having said that, all of these scales form those sounds, so that’s why we think about scales when we study improvisation strategies. The important thing to remember, is that when you’re learning any of these scales. You are not just learning a fingering or a pattern on the fretboard. You are trying to learn the sound that it creates against a dominant chord. Here are the scales.
Diminished Scale Exercise for Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 6th August 2019
Recently I’ve been practicing lots of symmetrical exercises. And this week I’ve featured a diminished scale exercise that I came up with this week. A few weeks ago I featured an exercise that involved harmonising the whole tone scale into augmented triads. A symmetrical exercise can be anything with a limited number of transpositions. In practice that usually means using patterns of repeating intervals. They have a vey unique sound that you won’t achieve just by using major and minor scales and their modes.
The Diminished Scale in Jazz
I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the diminished scale in jazz. The diminished scale is probably the most versatile symmetrical scale. The most obvious time to use it would be over a diminished chord, but that isn’t the most common place it gets used in jazz. The most common use of diminished scales in jazz is on dominant 7th chords. And I’ve used dominant 7th chords as the backing for the exercise in the video. The chords go around in a cycle of 5ths like the middle 8 section of the Rhythm Changes chord progression (D7, G7, C7, F7).
Let me explain how and why diminished scales work on dominant chords. I’ll use C7 as an example and I’m going to start my scale on the root note C. The first intervals in the scale will be a semi-tone and then a tone. So, the first three notes are C(root), Db(b9) and D#(#9). These same intervals will then repeat through the octave creating a scale with eight notes in it, C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb.
The interval pattern this creates is an interesting mix of inside and outside notes when played on a C7 chord. The b9 and #9 are both outside notes, and both common alterations on dominant 7th chords. The C, E, G and Bb are the chord tones, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. And the A is the 13th, which is a chord extension but an inside note. The F# is a #11th, which is another common altered chord extension.
The Diminished Scale Exercise
The exercise I came up with in the video is just an idea to help you improvise lines using the diminished scale. It’s slightly different ascending and descending as I referred to in the video. Here is the exercise as I played it in the video.
Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018
This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.
I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.
Jazz Blues Lick
The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.
If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.
The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.
From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).
Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.
For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.
The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.
If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.
Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.
From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.
The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.
I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!
Use the Diminished Scale to Play Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 6th November 2018
This week I’ve been practising using diminished sounds to play on dominant 7th chords in jazz. If you want to bring a more jazz sound to your playing, using the diminished scale is a great way to do it. Because it creates an interesting series of inside and outside notes when played on dominant chords.
What is the diminished scale?
The diminished scale is what I would call a symmetrical scale. It sounds like it should be something very complicated but it’s actually very simple. In many ways it’s even more simple than a major scale.
Symmetrical scales are scales that use the same intervals repeatedly. In the case of a diminished scale the intervals are a half tone (semi tone) and a whole tone. Symmetrical scales are also called modes of limited transposition or fixed transposition, which sounds even more complicated. But it still isn’t. It simply means that there are a very limited number of different ways you can transpose the scale. For example, because of the repeating intervals a G diminished scale is the same as a Bb diminished scale and Db and E diminished scales. So the idea of playing in 12 keys is a bit redundant. Another example of a mode of limited transposition is the whole tone scale. You can also use the whole tone scale to play on dominant 7th chords, but that’s another video for another day.
There are only two different ways you can play a diminished scale, you can either start with a half tone or you can start with a whole tone. After that it just repeats the same patterns over and over. Which makes it quite easy to play, as I said before, in many ways easier to play than a major scale.
Here is an example of an arpeggiated diminished scale pattern that I featured in the video.
How to practise a diminished scale
In the video I’ve used the example of a Bb7 chord. Here is a diminished scale starting on a Bb and beginning with a half tone.
I don’t always think about the scale starting on the root note. Often I will use the major third (D natural in this case) as a jumping off point. And in that case I will think of the scale as starting with a whole tone.
Another approach that I use is to start on the #9 or minor third. In this case Db. In this case the first two notes of the scale will be the minor 3rd (an outside note) resolving to the major third (a chord tone). This is a real signifier of the blues and it will help give your diminished licks a bluesy flavour.
How to apply the diminished scale in jazz
As I’ve previously mentioned, the diminished scale most commonly gets applied to dominant 7th chords in jazz. Here is the same Bb half/whole scale written out with the intervalic relationships to a Bb7 chord written over each note.
As you can see, the scale gives you all of the standard chord tones in a Bb7 chord. Root, major third, 5th and dominant 7th. However, it also includes one unaltered chord extension, the 13th, and three altered chord voicing, b9, #9 and #11. It’s these altered extensions that give the diminished scale a jazz flavour when you play them on a dominant 7th chord.
The best way to demonstrate this is by playing a jazz blues, because the blues uses dominant 7th chords a lot. I’ve transcribed a chorus of blues solo that I improvised in which I was using both the diminished sounds and the more traditional blues sound of the blues scale.
Check out next weeks Bass Practice Diary 30 if you want to look more at some of the diminished blues licks I’m playing here.