In this lesson excerpt from SFS Pentatonics 2 - Navigating Chord Changes, we learn a very quick way to map the Symmetric Diminished Scale. With this system, you are not blocked into box shapes, but instead you can freely place what I will show you in any fretboard area and any string, taking advantage of SFS (String Fragment System).
Watch the Video Lesson:
The Half-Whole Diminished scale, as its name suggests, is made up of a series of half steps and whole steps. On the fretboard a half step corresponds to a distance of one fret, and a whole step is two frets. So when we lay this out on a single string we start on our Root Note and move up one fret, then two, then one again and so on:
Count the notes and you will see that this is actually an 8 note scale. It takes 8 notes before we get to the root again (in this case the B in fret 14), as opposed to 7 for regular scales and 5 for pentatonics.
H/W vs W/H Diminished:
If we begin with the whole step instead of the half step, we would have the Whole / Half Diminished Scale. These two scales are essentially modes of each other and are collectively called the "Symmetric Diminished Scale”. Actually all structures that are made of repeating interval groups are called “Symmetric Structures”, and if we are talking about scales they are called “Symmetric Scales”. We will look at more of these later.
Practical Application using SFS:
Now as you will quickly figure out, it’s very impractical to play this on a single string. It can be cool to do it sometimes, maybe combined with sliding as a special effect, and so on, but we need to find a way to play this on more than one string in order to improvise with it freely and mix it up with our pentatonics. And once again, instead of having you memorize meaningless scale shapes, I will show you an application of SFS that will get you going with this scale immediately. This is not the only option, and I will make other lessons later that cover all diminished fingerings, but this is the quickest one, because the whole system is just one string fragment. You heard me right! In a few seconds you will be able to play this scale everywhere on the fretboard using just one string fragment. Here it is:
You place your first finger on the root note and play these 4 notes. In the following example I use the A on fret 5 as a Root Note:
Then you move one fret up and repeat the same string fragment:
Then one up again and repeat:
As always with SFS there is an exception when crossing between strings 3 and 2, so you will have to move up 2 frets at that point. So we end up with this fingering shape, which conveniently covers a wide range by moving diagonally:
Now it doesn’t matter what string you start with, or what key you play in. You will always get the same system. That’s the beauty of SFS. So what you need to do now is to play through these scale a few times, decide what fingers you want to use, get some muscle memory happening, and so on. Then you can use the included backing track and improvise creatively with it in the key of A. Make sure that you build the scale on every A on the fretboard just like we did with the pentatonic scales.
In the video I play a demo, going through the following practice routine that you can use in your own practice sessions as well:
- Build the system in the ASCENDING direction, on every string, starting on the A
- Build the system in the DESCENDING direction, on every string, starting on the A
- Improvise freely and jump between fretboard areas, again using the A as a root note.
Practice this yourself and when you feel that you are beginning to get comfortable with it, then you can move on to the next lesson where we will talk about where you can use this scale, and how you can mix it with your pentatonic scales in songs with complex chord changes.