Use diminished scales for improvisation

Diminished scales provide great color for improvisation! So why deprive yourself of it?

I created two videos on diminished scales:

  • In the first, I talk about how to play them on the violin, in first position and with the diagrams of Didier Lockwood
  • In the second, I explain on which chords to use them and in which contexts. I illustrate this by accompanying myself and singing the improvisation


First video: How to play diminished scales on the violin?


The diminished scale is one of the so-called symmetrical scales. This scale is a continuous TONE / HALF TONE sequence! So there are only three of them: indeed, if for example we start from the open string of G to create the diminished scale, we play G A Bb C Db etc… The TONE / HALF TONE scale which part of the B flat will therefore be exactly the same!

You can better visualize this by referring to the sheet music available at this link:

From then on, you just have to practice these three scales in two different ways, in first position or with Didier Lockwood’s diagrams, to find the most comfortable fingerings possible for you!




Practice the diminished scale in first position


First of all, I really advise you to practice the diminished scales in first position, by trying different possibilities of fingerings (I included some in the score). Why work in the first position? Quite simply because when you improvise, you will most often find yourself in first position. If you’re in first and you hear that you’re going to be able to play the diminished scale on the next chord, you won’t have time to say to yourself, “Hey, I hear the diminished scale, I’m going quickly to fifth position to play it!”

What I mean is that when improvising, you have to be prepared for all possible situations, and that’s why it’s important to work on several fingerings, in first and in higher positions too.


Work on the diminished scale with the diagrams of Didier Lockwood

It is also useful to employ Dider Lockwood’s diagrams. Inspired by guitarists, he created a system where fingers can keep the same gaps, and visualization is easier!

In terms of diminished scales, with this system, you can keep exactly the same finger spacing on all the strings and move your hand by a semitone from one string to another. Then, by changing the order of the fingers, we can come up with super interesting patterns!

This system also works for many other scales, but in this article I will only discuss its application to diminished scales. I also find that the diminished scales are really more interesting to play by visualizing the diagrams than other scales.


To better visualize all this, here is the video “How to play diminished scales on the violin?”


Second video: How to use diminished scales to improvise?


Diminished scales are generally used for improvisation in two situations:

  • on diminished chords
  • on the dominant seventh chord in a major II-V-I cadence

The diminished scale on the diminished chord

The diminished chord consists of 4 notes: stacked minor thirds! On this chord, first play the diminished arpeggio, composed neither more nor less of the 4 notes that make up the chord. Then, starting from one of the notes of the arpeggio, you play the diminished scale in order TONE / SEMI-TONE. Voila, you’re playing the diminished scale over the diminished chord!



The diminished scale on the major II-V-I

This time, we will try to play the diminished scale over the dominant seventh chord of II-V-I, in order to further accentuate the tension already caused by this chord! This is why the diminished scale offers such an interesting color…

For example, on a II-V-I in C major, (Dm7 – G7 – C) it will be on the G7. First, we’re going to play the diminished arpeggio that corresponds to the notes of this chord, adding the 9th flat. We will have  Ab – B – D – F. By playing the diminished arpeggio, we already obtain a beautiful color with this flat 9 which accentuates the tension of the chord!

Then, from this 9th flat, we will play the diminished scale in the order TONE / HALF-TONE. You can also play it from the third, the fifth and the seventh of the G7, which are part of the diminished arpeggio that you just played.

We can also consider that we start from the fundamental of the chord which is G, and we play the diminished scale in the order HALF TONE / TONE. Remember that this scale is symmetrical so it works!


If it seems a bit complicated, I suggest you watch the video. You’ll be able to visualize it all better. Once we understand the theory, we will have to hear the scale. I encourage you to sing it, then like me to work on it by singing it with a II-V-I accompaniment. So you’re really going to internalize it, and it will come out naturally in your improvisations.


Watch the video “How to use the diminished scale to improvise?”






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Download the score of the three diminished scales with fingerings in first position on this link:…


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