Diminished Whole Tone Scale Exercise with Pentatonic

The diminished whole tone scale (aka super locrian or Pomeroy scale) has been around for a long time, but it's still a foreign sound to ears that are steeped in basic major and minor scales. For as many years as I've been playing it, it's still not something I find myself idly humming. Nevertheless, it's an extremely useful scale, full of colors and possibilities for chord superimpositions. Think of the diminished whole tone scale as a mode built upon the seventh degree of the ascending melodic minor scale. For instance, a C melodic minor scale contains these notes: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B, C. Start on B as the scale root rather than C and you've got a B diminished whole tone scale. The scale's primary use is with the altered dominant seventh chord, which it fits like a glove. The diminished whole tone scale contains virtually every common alteration of the dominant chord you can conceive of: b9, #9, +5, and +11. So when you see, for instance, an A+7#9, the A diminished whole tone is a scale option that should come instantly to mind. Like any scale, you can conceive of it as simply a linear repository of tones, all of which relate perfectly to the altered dominant chord. The exercise on this page explores three of the many harmonic possibilities contained within the diminished whole tone scale. Click on the image to enlarge it. Each four-bar line sets a given scale against its respective altered dominant chord.
  • The first two bars use four-note cells to outline the seventh, raised fifth, third, and root of the chord. The chord tone is the last note of each cluster.
  • The third bar is a mode four pentatonic scale built on the b9 of the chord.
  • The last bar concludes with a simple lick that expresses the major quality of the chord, then hits two of its tension tone (#9 and b9) before resolving to the root.
  • . The purpose of this exercise isn't so much to give you a great lick as to help you dig inside the diminished whole tone scale to see what it has to offer. There's plenty more to discover, so consider this a springboard to further exploration. You'd do well to use some kind of harmonic accompaniment as you play this exercise, so you're training not just your fingers but also your ears. Practice hard and have fun! And be sure to visit my jazz page for a large selection of other informative articles, exercises, and solo transcriptions that can help you develop as a jazz improviser. They're all free, so dig in, learn, and grow with me musically.

    A Diminished Whole Tone Lick

    The diminished whole tone scale (aka super locrian scale, altered scale, altered dominant scale, Pomeroy scale) is nothing if not colorful. A mode of the ascending melodic minor scale built on that scale's seventh degree, the diminished whole tone scale encompasses virtually every alteration to a dominant chord that you can think of: #5, b9, #9, and #11. It's commonly used over dominant chords of various alterations, and is ideally suited to the V+7#9. The name "diminished whole tone" refers to the scale's two tetrachords. The bottom tetrachord derives from a half-whole diminished scale, and the top tetrachord suggests a whole tone scale. For example, connecting the tetrachord B, C, D, and Eb with the tetrachord F, G, A, and B will give you a B diminished whole tone scale: B, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B. (In actual use, you'd want to think of the Eb enharmonically as a D#, the major third of a B+7#9 chord). diminished-whole-tone-exercise_0To your right is an exercise that will take you around the cycle of fifths with one of my favorite diminished whole tone licks. (Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it.) I like the lick for three reasons. It starts and finishes on the highly consonant major third of the altered dominant chord, but in between it spotlights the altered tones of the chord (#5, b9, #9). It emphasizes the half-step relationship between the third and #9, and between the b9 and the chord root. And it outlines the major triad built on the raised fifth of the altered dominant--e.g. the #5 of a D+7#9, A# (Bb enharmonically) gives rise to a Bb major triad. Have fun with the exercise. If you're not familiar with the diminished whole tone sound, it may take a while to get it into your ear, but you'll be glad you did. Look for more exercises, helpful articles, and solo transcriptions on my jazz page.