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Tom Quayle - Using Diminished Chords In Place Of Chord I

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 16 **

In previous guitar lessons, we’ve looked at quite a few methods that can be used to enhance a II-V-I chord progression. These include using modal extensions on each of the chords, Tri-Tone substitution and the creative use of major 7th chords. In the final guitar lesson on this topic we’re going to be using some very modern sounding diminished chords taken from the symmetrical diminished scale in place of our I chord.

If you’ve never heard of the symmetrical diminished scale don’t worry as I’m going to explain it now. Normally, scales are constructed from a series of tones and semitones - the order of those tones and semitones being unique to each scale and giving them their characteristic sound. A symmetrical scale is built from a repeating series of tones and semitones that appear symmetrical in nature. The symmetrical diminished scale is built from repeating tone/semitone intervals giving us 8 notes in one octave. This can be represented as follows starting from the note D: -

D tone E semitone F tone G semitone Ab tone Bb semitone Cb/B tone Db semitone D

Check out the accompanying TAB in the magazine for a couple of fingerings for this scale. The scale yields an array of fantastic sounding chordal structures and in this lesson I’ve tabbed out four of my favourites for you that function as a diminished chords. Normally a diminished chord would be used as a passing chord between two other chords. In this lesson I want to show you that you can also use a diminished chord to lead into the I chord in a II-V-I progression. By placing a diminished chord on the root note of the I chord before resolving to that I chord we create additional tension that gives the progression a great, modern sound. Many modern jazz and fusion musicians such as Adam Rogers, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Miller and Wayne Krantz use this technique.

The beauty of these chords is that they can be moved up and down the neck every 3 frets or minor 3rd interval, giving you four chords for the price of one. Try learning each of the chords and then move them up and down the neck, utilising them in the II-V-I progression leading into the I chord. When soloing over these chords you can simply use the diminished scale built from the root note of the I chord and resolve into the major scale built from the same root note.

These are pretty dissonant and modern sounds, so don’t worry if your ear finds them distasteful or hard to handle at first. If you struggle with them I suggest bearing with it for a while and perhaps singing through the scale a few times to get your ear used to the sound that it produces. Once your ear has become accustomed to the dissonance it will embrace it and you’ll start to really enjoy these new sounds in your own playing. If you already like the sound of these progressions I suggest that you now try them in all twelve keys to become accustomed with the shapes all over the guitar.

Good luck – we’re moving onto something completely new in the next lesson!


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