Improvise Jazz Piano With the Dominant Diminished Scale
Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!
Recently, I found an old set of keys that I hadn’t seen in years. As I thumbed through each “mystery key,” I strained to recall what random lock it might open. I didn’t want to throw them away, but I also doubted that I’d ever use them. Similarly, if you’ve ever seen a scale appendix in the back of a jazz textbook, then you know that a listing of jazz scales looks not much different from my collection of jagged-edged mystery keys. Well, in today’s Quick Tip, we’ll explore the dominant diminished scale and show you how to use it to unlock beautiful, pro-sounding jazz improv lines! You’ll learn:
- 1 Jazz Chord Progression
- 2 Left Hand Options
- 2 Right Hand Improv Scales
- 3 Connecting Scale Exercises
- 3 Improv Examples
In fact, when we’re finished, you might just use the dominant diminished scale as frequently as the key to your front door!
Let’s jump in!
Improv with the Dominant Diminished Scale
Jazz pianists frequently use the dominant diminished scale on the 5 chord in a 2-5-1 progression to craft colorful, jazzy improv lines like the example below.
What is the Dominant Diminished Scale?
The dominant diminished scale is an 8-note scale constructed of alternating ½ steps and whole steps beginning with a ½ step.
Since this scale is used on a V7 chord, let’s look how we might use it to improv over G7.
What makes this scale work so well on dominant 7 chords? Consider our example above. Not only does it contain all of the tones of G7, it also contains some colorful chord alterations, including the♭9 (A♭), ♯9 (B♭), and ♯11 (C♯). Furthermore, it also contains the 13th (E), a jazzy chord extension. This makes it a perfect choice for crafting colorful, jazzy improv lines.
Additional Materials for this Lesson
What about improv over the 2-chord and the 1-chord of our 2-5-1 in C Major? Great question! In fact, the C Major Scale works great on D minor 7, C Major 7 and C Major 6.
Beginner Left Hand
If you are beginner, then diatonic 7th chords in the left hand are a great choice. Notice below that the G7 chord is in 2nd inversion. This prevents an awkward leap to a root position G7 and creates better voice leading. Also, the C6 in measure 4 creates a little variety since the 1 chord lasts two full measures.
Intermediate Left Hand
While diatonic 7th chords are perfectly acceptable, you may opt for the example below which uses rootless voicings in the left hand to add more harmonic color.
Now that we have all the materials, let’s put them together.
Connecting Scale Exercises
Just like chords are not always used in root position, in the same way, improv scales should not be always begin on their 1st note. In order to get great-sounding lines, its important to practice connecting your scales by ½ step or whole step. The following exercises will help. Each example begins on a different chord tone of Dm7.
Connecting Scale Exercise 1
Connecting Scale Exercise 2
Connecting Scale Exercise 3
You’re almost ready to craft your own improv lines! But first, let’s try playing our connecting scale exercises with the backing tracks that are included with this lesson. The lesson sheet and backing tracks are downloadable at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose the lesson material to any key with our Smart Sheet Music.
Great job! In the next section, we’ll explore improvising with the dominant diminished scale!
The following sample lines demonstrate how to incorporate the Dominant Diminished Scale into your improv over a 2-5-1 progression. Notice that each example targets a consonant note at the end of the phrase.
Improv Example 1
Improv Example 2
Improv Example 3
That sounds great! You can also try creating your own lines.
If you enjoyed this lesson, then you’ll love the following courses in our library:
- Soloing Over a Turnaround (Level 2, Level 3)
- Scales for Improv on 7th Chords (Level 3)
- Bossa Nova Soloing Challenge (Level 2 & 3)
- Breaking Down a Jazz Solo (Level 2, Level 3)
Thanks for learning with us today, and please join us again soon!
Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May
More Free Lessons
Play Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul" on piano in 5 levels—from beginner to pro. Apply pro tips for jazz, stride and contemporary pop styles.
Discover a fun improv practice game for expanding your jazz vocabulary with original 2-5-1 jazz licks using 3 different dominant scales.
How do Hollywood film composers like John Williams, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer create gripping chord progressions? Learn 3 tricks to create cinematic chords on piano.
Looking for downloads?
Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!
The Piano With Jonny Membership
Guided Learning Tracks
View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels
Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress
Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks
Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums
Become a better piano player today. Start your free 14-day trial today!