The 13th Fret

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(the half/whole diminished scale)

Hello and welcome back to The 13th Fret!

The response to the first instalment was resoundingly positive and much appreciated. Without further adieu, let’s dive into #2!

Today’s topic is the Half/Whole Diminished Scale; a selected group of notes that has a tendency to illicit a rather mysterious (or even “evil") vibe that can function in a number of different settings, from Jazz to country to... METAL.

To me, this particular scale contains all of the “cool” notes; the notes that conjure up the most distinct emotional response... especially when isolated over the appropriate chord or root note. The spelling of the Half/Whole Diminished scale is: 1, b2, b3, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7.

When played note-by-note over it’s root pitch, a few details can be deducted:

-the b2 is the “dark” note (think Metallica’s “Shortest Straw”... or anything from Slayer)
-the b3 is the “sad” note
-the 3 is the “happy” note
-the #4 is the “evil” note
-the 5 is the note needed for a power chord (do I really need to explain IT’S importance?! lol)
-the 6 is just a cool note that is somewhat bluesy... somewhat moody and plaintive
-the 7 is the biggest link to the blues or pentatonic scale, as it is usually bent into the root note

FIG. 1 shows this scale in the key of A. These deductions are, of course, MY interpretations of the tonal qualities that I’ve come to after many years of listening and analyzing. However, everyone is different, and may not agree. Feel free to come to your own conclusions! If the explanation of the scale seems daunting, I’m sure you’ll find the consistent fretting structure to be gratifying! Consisting of repetitive half step/whole step intervals, it makes for easy fingering. Check the tab in FIG.1 for details.

Click here to download Kelly's Half/Whole Diminished Scale PDF!

"To me, this particular scale contains all of the “cool” notes..."

One of the best things about this scale is it’s ability to function over both major AND minor chords, as it contains the notes of both (1,3,5 for major...1,b3,5 for minor). This makes it quite ambiguous, and therefore ideal for metal, jazz... or anything requiring an “off kilter” sound.

In FIG’s 2 and 3, you'll find this scale’s application in my band PRISMIND’s song “Dagger”, in which I use this scale several times. The first appearance is the riff leading into the instrumental break at 3:03. In the key of E, it provides the “falling” feel that introduces the manic nature of the pre-solo section. FIG.2 shows the riff that both Justin (Faragher, bassist) and I play in unison to usher in this section.

FIG.3 demonstrates the final lick of the solo which utilizes the H/W Diminished scale, again in the key of E. In this example (at 4:13), it’s mysterious and sinister tendencies are used to build tension towards the solo’s end. This section uses strict alternate picking (down/up), for maximum attack. The string skipping involved does not make this any easier, but plenty of SLOW practice and accuracy will get you there in no time.

Enjoy the scale, the licks and the lesson... and feel free to direct any questions or comments to my Facebook page. Thanks again, and see you next month! \m/

Kelly Kereliuk, HMS

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