Diminished Thoughts…

Hey Jazz Guy

My beef concerns diminished chords. Most teachings I have encountered
on diminished harmony improvisation consist in playing playing patterns
and arps. But how do we make “diminished” sound musical while outlining
the harmony? Take for example “Quiet Nights” (A- to Ab dim), the
bridge in “Air mail special”, “All of me” turnaround (C Eb dim D- G7), or simply
diminished passing chords in rhythm changes (C C#dim D- D# dim).
Help me from sounding somewhat unsure in those situations.


Dimmed out cat

Dear Dimmed Out…

This is a great question, as diminished harmony is often that tricky little beast that won’t go away. It seems to me like you’ve started in the right place, by practicing the scales and arps and being able to deliver them over the chord when the time is right. But as you said, the next step is musicality. I would start by taking your ideas from the many beautiful melodies that are the source of these chords in the first place. Like “Quiet Nights” is an amazing song, and the melody is common tone to both A- and Abdim. That’s a cue right there, that playing common tones is gonna sound beautiful, and lets the harmony speak for itself.

Another idea is to play a melody that would be regularly in the chord before it (like an A- melody) and when the Dim. comes up, just change one note, or two to fit the scale, and again, let the harmony speak for itself. In my humble opinion, a subtle approach to diminished harmony would be to change as few notes as possible (or play as if the chord is not there) and the tension becomes the existence of the chord at all!

Now, two more things to mention… To go nuts and play really out, you can apply techniques like playing major triads off of each note in the chord (Ab, B, D, F) or playing ALT7 that is a half step down in this case (like G7ALT)…that kind of thing.

Everything I’ve mentioned so far, is really a more modern approach. Don’t forget that the be-bop language is really arps and scales verbatim with a little chromatic fun in there. So that’s a different way of looking at dim. I will do a lesson on this for sure (for my site at least) and let you know when it’s up. But I hope that helps for now. Happy shedding and thank you for taking the time to write.

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Categories: Harmony

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