Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Improvisation
  • Scales
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
  • Latin Jazz
Free Lessons

Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!

Do you want to learn how to improvise a jazz piano solo on Dominant 7 Chords? With these 4 steps, you will learn how to play killer solos utilizing one scale:

  1. Left hand comping pattern
  2. Learn the scale
  3. Rhythmic and melodic patterns
  4. Incorporate triad pairs (advanced)

This scale has such a cool sound because it utilizes lots of dissonance! You will be able to sound like Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Charlie Parker, and many more jazz legends! Let’s get started.

Improvise Dominant 7 Chords – Left Hand

Before we dig in to the coolest scale to use on Dominant 7 Chords, let’s take a look at what to do with the left hand. For this Quick Tip, we are only going to focus on C7. However the techniques you’ll learn today will work for all 12 Dominant 7 Chords. Here’s C7 in Root Position:

C7 in root position
C7 in Root Position

Pay attention to the interval between the 3rd (E) and 7th (Bb): this is the key to understanding why this scale works so well on Dominant 7 Chords. The interval is a tritone! By itself, a tritone sounds dissonant but combined with the rest of the chord tones it gives the Dominant 7 Chord its unique sonic character. This dissonant quality is also the reason why these types of chords still sound good with other dissonant ideas played on top of them!

Let’s take a look at a better way to play this C7 chord using a Rootless Voicing:

C7 Rootless Voicing
C7 Rootless Voicing

Here, we’ve moved the 5th (G) to the 13th (A). When a chord has the 7th included, non-chord tones are referred to by their scale degree plus 7. These are called extensions. The half-step interval between A and Bb still sounds good, but adds a bit more dissonance and jazzy character to our voicing.

Play the root on beat 1, then the voicing on the and of 2 to add some syncopation and energy. This will propel your solo along and help you groove and swing harder!

If you want to dig into more detail about some of the topics mentioned so far, check out our Piano Chord Extensions and Dominant 7 Chord Exercises courses.

Next, let’s learn the Diminished Dominant Scale.

Improvise Dominant 7 Chords – Scale

The Diminished Dominant Scale is a super cool scale that utilizes almost every possible alteration for Dominant 7 Chords. Check it out:

C Dominant Diminished Scale
C Diminished Dominant Scale

Whoa! Lots of really cool notes in this scale! We have the b9 (Db), #9 (Eb), and #11 (F#) in there. This scale is called the Diminished Dominant Scale because the 3rd, 5th, and 7th are all lowered by a half step (flat 3rd and flat 5th make it diminished, and flat 7 makes it dominant). Pay attention to the fingering as well; you only need 1, 2, and 3 to play the whole thing.

All of the content in this Quick Tip is available in our Smart Sheet for the Dominant Diminished Scale. Feel free to follow along as you work through this Quick Tip!

For more on extensions and alterations, check out our 2-5-1 Chord Extension & Alteration Exercises course.

Next, let’s learn some rhythmic and melodic patterns to get this scale down.

Rhythmic and Melodic Patterns

The rhythmic foundation for all great jazz solos are 8th notes and triplets (and combinations of both!). Let’s start by playing the scale in 8th notes to get used to the feel and sound:

C Diminished Dominant Scale in 8th Notes
C Diminished Dominant Scale in 8th Notes

Once you’re comfortable with that, move on to triplets:

C Diminished Dominant Scale in triplets

Once you’ve got triplets and 8th notes down, try alternating between 8th notes and triplets as you go up and down the scale, something like this:

C Diminished Dominant Scale - 8ths and Triplets
C Diminished Dominant Scale – 8ths and Triplets

Next, let’s learn some melodic patterns you can use with this scale.

Melodic patterns

Practicing this scale in different, melodic ways is a really important component to developing your own musical vocabulary that you can rely on while improvising a great jazz piano solo on Dominant 7 Chords. You can start doing this by playing the scale in seconds, but starting in a different place:

C Diminished Dominant Scale - seconds
C Diminished Dominant Scale – Seconds

This will not only teach you what this scale sounds like in different places, but it will reinforce the specific notes that belong in this scale. The beneficial byproduct of practicing this way is when you’re improvising, you’ll know exactly which notes fit this scale regardless of where you are on the keyboard and you won’t have to guess! Awesome!

Next, practice this scale in thirds:

C Diminished Dominant Scale - Thirds
C Diminished Dominant Scale – Thirds

Another great melodic device you can use is turns. A turn happens when you quickly play the note above the note you’re currently playing and turn back down, like this:

C Diminished Dominant Scale - Turns
C Diminished Dominant Scale – Turns

You can combine turns with the rhythmic variations we looked at earlier! You can make a turn a triplet followed by 8th notes:

Turn as triplet followed by 8th notes
Turn as triplet followed by 8th notes

Or turn the whole thing into 16th notes!

Making a turn into 16th notes
Making a turn into 16th notes

Another cool thing about this scale is that you can think of it as two diminished 7th chords next to each other:

Dominant Diminished Scale - 7th chords
Dominant Diminished Scale – 7th chords

These diminished 7th chords are contained within the scale, and are very easy to repeat as you move up and down the scale. You can create long 8th note lines, or throw in some triplets or 16th notes to come up with cool rhythmic ideas to fit the sound of this Dominant Diminished Scale.

Next, let’s look at one of my favorite improvisational concepts: triad pairs.

Improvising With Triad Pairs

This section is geared toward more advanced students, but anyone can benefit from this more complex concept. Triad pair improvisation is a concept pioneered by saxophonist George Garzone, and the idea is to invent melodic ideas using the notes from two triads. The Diminished Dominant Scale can be broken down into a whole bunch of triads, but we will look at four Major triads: C, Eb, F#, and A:

C Diminished Dominant Scale - Triads
C Diminished Dominant Scale – Triads

Red – C Major

Green – F# Major

Blue – A Major

Purple – Eb Major

As you can see, each note in the scale belongs to at least one triad. You can alternate between triads while improvising, like this:

Triad pair from Diminished Dominant Scale
Triad pair from Diminished Dominant Scale

Or you can incorporate all four triads in a very cool diminished-sounding pattern. This one uses the four triads starting with the #9 of each:

Diminished-sounding triad pair pattern
Diminished-sounding triad pair pattern

Experiment with finding different triad pairs that exist in the scale to add some really cool ideas to your playing! The possibilities are endless!

If you’ve enjoyed learning about the Dominant Diminished Scale, check out  Scales for Improv on 7th Chords workshop. We go into a lot more depth about not only the Dominant Diminished Scale, but many more scales you can use to improvise over virtually any chord!

That’s all for today’s piano lesson. If you enjoyed this lesson, I recommend subscribing to our weekly piano Quick Tips emails. This way, you’ll never miss a lesson.

See you in the next piano lesson.

Blog written by Austin Byrd / Quick Tip by Jonny May


More Free Lessons

Explore 5 levels of passing chords that you can use to personalize tunes, add variety and increase harmonic expressiveness.

Discover pro insights on how to dress up Erroll Garner's "Misty" with intermediate and advanced jazz piano concepts and techniques.

Get your blues piano soloing chops in shape with Jonny's 10 top blues piano licks. This lesson is guaranteed to get you gig ready!

Looking for downloads?

Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!

Start Your Free Trial

Join Us

Get instant access to this Quick Tip and other member features with a PWJ membership!

Guided Learning Tracks

View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels

Progress Tracking

Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress

Downloadable Resources

Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks

Community Forums

Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums

Become a better piano player today. Join with the 14-Day Free Trial today!

Get Started