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July 24, 2021

Harmonized Half Diminished Scales

Harmonized Half Diminished Scales

Greetings JazzPianoSkills Fam!

In previous podcast episodes, I outlined how to harmonize the Major, Dominant, and Minor scales. This week we continued our harmonization exploration and tackled the Half Diminished Scale. I am not sure why this is the case, but, the Half Diminished Scale (Locrian Mode) and the Diminished Scale (7th Mode Harmonic Minor) are rarely discussed, studied, and practiced; especially, when compared to the attention Major, Dominant, and Minor scales (Modes) receive. This may indeed be the norm but not at JazzPianoSkills! The brutal fact is this - you need to become as comfy with the Half Diminished and Diminished Sound (harmonically and melodically) as you are with the Major, Dominant, and Minor Sounds. If you neglect the Half Diminished and Diminished Sounds you will always find it difficult to play jazz. Why? Because the Half Diminished and Diminished Sounds are significantly prevalent in jazz repertoire.

So this week we dissected the Half Diminished Scale and we discovered some very important musical facts that are important to document; not only for future reference but to serve as "reminders" when our thinking becomes fragmented from over-thinking.

Discovery Number 1:
The Half Diminished Scale consists of seven notes just as the Major, Dominant, and Minor scales do. So, if the Major, Dominant, and Minor scales make sense to us then we should find the Half Diminished scale to be remarkably similar! It should not come as a surprise to you that the more time you spend with the Half Diminished Scale the less intimidating it becomes - it's simply an issue of familiarity! Spend time with the Half Diminished Scale on paper (Paper Practice) and physically (on your instrument); not only will you become intimately familiar with the shapes, but you will also fall in love with the sound.

Discovery Number 2:
The Half Diminished Scale derives from the 7th Mode of the Major Scale. Therefore, the Half Diminished Scale IS a Major Scale starting on a note other than the root (which is the case with all Modes other than the first Mode). The 7th Mode of the Major Scale is called Locrian; however, do not get freaked out with the "fancy-schmancy" names. After all, the study of Modes is a way of explaining the origins of a sound - that's it! In other words, we ask the question, "Where does this chord come from?" If we can answer the question we then know the scale (the seven notes) we can use to compose or improvise our melodies. Did you catch that? Modes tell us what scale (the seven notes) we can use to create melodies - they do not tell us how to create melodies! Bottom line, Modes do not serve any other purpose other than to academically explain chord/scale relationships. Many students get the impression that Modes represent an "improvisational approach" or "method" - they do not.

Discovery Number 3:
When harmonizing any scale (the Half Diminished Scale included) the notes used to do so come directly from the scale. The Locrian Mode (Half Diminished Scale) is, as stated above, nothing more than a Major Scale. In fact, this is the case with Dominant and Minor Scales as well. This is a huge revelation because it magnifies the importance of truly knowing Major Scales (conceptually and physically). It can be stated as a musical fact that if you do not know the Major Scales your quest of becoming an accomplished jazz pianist is doomed before you even get started.

To discover, learn, and play contemporary two-handed voicings for the Half Diminished sounds be sure to listen to this week's podcast episode, Harmonized Half Diminished Scales. Thanks for being a JazzPianoSkills Member. It is my pleasure to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!

Warm Regards,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
JazzPianoSkills