Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Improvisation
  • Scales
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
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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.

Dominant Diminished Scale Improv Example Jazz Piano

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.

G Dominant Diminished Scale Diagram

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.

G7 Alterations & Extensions in DD scale

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.

C Major Scale - Use on Dm7, CMaj7, and C6

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.

Beginner Left Hand 2-5-1 in C Jazz Piano

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.

Intermediate Left Hand 2-5-1 in C Jazz Piano

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 Dominant Diminished Scale Exercise 1

Connecting Scale Exercise 2

Connecting Scale Exercise 2 Jazz Piano Improv Intermediate Advanced

Connecting Scale Exercise 3

Connecting Dominant Diminished Scale Exercise 3 improvise jazz piano professional lines

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!

Improv Examples

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 1 with the Dominant Diminished Scale jazz piano

Improv Example 2

Improv Example 2

Improv Example 3

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:

Thanks for learning with us today, and please join us again soon!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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