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Hello, friends and distinguished saxophonists. As an intermediate-level improvisor, I have a little question here.

Inasmuch as people use the pentatonic scales as a starting point for improvisation, when playing over simple major and minor chords, is there also a similar common formula used as a starting point, for playing over diminished and augmented chords?

Yes, I understand that there are oodles of "diminished patterns" and "augmented patterns" that I should learn, and I know that I have some on the shelf, in a notebook, that I downloaded from the internet years ago, but my question is whether there is one pattern in particular that people tend to use with diminished and augmented chords, as a starting point, in the same way that they use the pentatonic scales for major and minor, as a starting point to work with until they learn other more creative patterns. I am assuming that there is a "formula" other than the full scales themselves, or the arpeggios thereof.

Incidentally, it has been a couple of years since I used the Bergonzi books, in which the method recommended for major chords is the 1235 combination (and permutations thereof, which is technically not pentatonic, I guess, because it omits the 6th altogether, and for minor chords, the 1345 combination, I think, but those books never told the reader what Bergonzi's formula was for the diminished and augmented chords (although the answer may be in another volume that I have yet to read).

Typically, I do not encounter these chords often anyway, and when I do, it is only for a few beats, so I have just been using arpeggios, to fake it, in the meantime, but what is the usual formula taught for starting off with those two chord forms?
 

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Pentatonic scale is an acoustic scale, the result of “squeezing” the pitches of four neighboring fifths (or fourths) within one octave: CGDAE = CDEGA. Augmented and diminished - artificial symmetrical scales created by dividing the octave into equal parts, which are patterns in themselves.
 

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Diminished is a bit trickier because you can start out with a half step or you can start out with a whole step.

Let's say you've got "C dim" and no context - would you play a pattern D-Eb-F-Eb, or C#-D#- E-D#? Either conforms to the chord tones. It will depend on what precedes and follows it.

I would suggest to find some examples of dim chords and aug chords used in context (say, four bar groupings with different dim and aug chords), and then program that four bars into Band in a Box on infinite loop and just mess with the chords and sounds over and over at very slow tempos. Trying to work out details of patterns to play over these chords while playing tunes is tough because you've often got two or at most four beats and then "poof" it's gone not to come back for another 31 bars.

In the old days we would find a cooperative pianist and buy him drinks all afternoon to sit there and play over a pattern over and over. Nowadays with Band in a Box and equivalent, you can DIY. And even the most cooperative pianist, after too many drinks, is liable to get sick of playing four chords over and over and will want to go do something else.
 

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When I encounter a diminished chord I apply a diminished scale. Very occasionally I'll play a something like a Coltrane-esque non-terminal pattern, but I'm usually more linear, or an arpeggio.

For a chord like C7+9+5 I apply an E lydian augmented scale. Sometimes I think of it as being just that, and sometimes I just raise and flat the 9th and 5th.

For a chord like C7+5 (natural 9th) I use augmented scales, and quite often I'll use another non-terminal pattern. Patterns For Jazz (Coker et al) is a good source for those.
 

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Typically, I do not encounter these chords often anyway...
Keep in mind that diminished patterns/chords can be used over dominant chords. If using a scalar pattern, you'd be using the "half-whole" dim scale (starting on a half step) that turf mentioned. And the 3 5 7 b9 of a dom7b9 chord is a diminished chord; for ex C7b9 spelled from the 3rd (E G Bb Db) is an Edim chord. So you aren't limited to using diminished patterns only on dim chords.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Wow. Priceless information. You all have given me a lot to digest there, including the point about context, relationship with other chords, etc. Thank you so much.
 

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Keep in mind that diminished patterns/chords can be used over dominant chords. If using a scalar pattern, you'd be using the "half-whole" dim scale (starting on a half step) that turf mentioned. And the 3 5 7 b9 of a dom7b9 chord is a diminished chord; for ex C7b9 spelled from the 3rd (E G Bb Db) is an Edim chord. So you aren't limited to using diminished patterns only on dim chords.
Very true!

Often (but not always) in a standard a diminished chord is a 7b9 "in disguise" and the chord has a dominant function. In these cases you can treat the chord like a 7b9 chord, in fact playing the root of the 7b9 is a beautiful note on the diminished chord.

For example:

C#dim Dmin

This could be thought of as (rootless) voicing of

A7b9 Dmin

And you can treat the C#dim as you would playing A7b9 (for example playing: A Bb C# D E F G, or an A altered scale).
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Oh. wow. Thanks for that tip. Good point.
 

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It depends on which function the diminished chord has. Most diminished chords are V7 chords in disguise and you can play all your V7 material over that. If it's a diminished chord on I, #II/bIII or #IV , ( for example the 6th bar of a jazz blues) I don't use the diminished scale. It doesn't sound completely wrong but it doesn't sound all that great either. Somewhat artificial. I just wrote an article with several examples on what you could play over those. demonstration on how it sounds too on a video. Shoot me a PM if you're interested.
 

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It depends on which function the diminished chord has. Most diminished chords are V7 chords in disguise and you can play all your V7 material over that. If it's a diminished chord on I, #II/bIII or #IV , ( for example the 5th bar of a jazz blues) I don't use the diminished scale. It doesn't sound completely wrong but it doesn't sound all that great either. Somewhat artificial. I just wrote an article with several examples on what you could play over those. demonstration on how it sounds too on a video. Shoot me a PM if you're interested.
I know what you mean. For example, In C, you'd treat F#dim or Ebdim or Dbdim as a B7b9 chord?
 

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I know what you mean. For example, In C, you'd treat F#dim or Ebdim or Dbdim as a B7b9 chord?
yes. Not Db dim though but C dim. ( as in Misty where the Idim resolves to the Imaj chord) I meant to say the sixth bar of the blues. The F# diminished can be treated as a II-V going to IIIm7 . Eventhough it does not go there. So you play F#m7b5 - B7 over the F# dim. Or just B7. And all the things you can play over a B7 gives you plenty of choices other then the diminished scale. I am using it here.
it's an etude I wrote for my intermediate students.
 

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Not every diminished 7 is a hidden dominant, as in this example:
C6 / E - Ebdim7 -D-7,
therefore there is a diminished 7 replacement method. Take this Ebdim7 and look for seventh 7 to a major third down - in this case it will be
B7 (b9 ) .
Next step: find m7 / b5 to a fourth down from B7, i.e. F # m7 / b5. It turns out two for the price of one:
C6 / E - [F # m7 / b5 -B7 (b9)] - Dm7 .

However, this is not all. Since diminished 7 sounds the same in all inversions, you can extend the above method to each of the inversions:

C6 / E - [A m7 / b5 -D7 (b9)] - Dm7

C6 / E - [C m7 / b5 -F7 (b9)] - Dm7

C6 / E - [Eb m7 / b5 -Ab7 (b9)] - Dm7

And all these options instead of one single Ebdim7!
 

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yes. Not Db dim though but C dim. ( as in Misty where the Idim resolves to the Imaj chord) I meant to say the sixth bar of the blues. The F# diminished can be treated as a II-V going to IIIm7 . Eventhough it does not go there. So you play F#m7b5 - B7 over the F# dim. Or just B7. And all the things you can play over a B7 gives you plenty of choices other then the diminished scale. I am using it here.
it's an etude I wrote for my intermediate students.
Sorry yes, Cdim! Thanks for the response

F#dim resolves to C (often) in a blues, which really isn't very different from Eminor anyway right?
 

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Sorry yes, Cdim! Thanks for the response

F#dim resolves to C (often) in a blues, which really isn't very different from Eminor anyway right?
Of course F#dim, Adim, Cdim, and Ebdim are all the same chord (F# A C Eb). And they are all 'inside' B7b9.

Yes a C chord and Emin chord are very closely related (they share 3 of the same chord tones). And I think in a blues, those dim chords or the B7b9 chord, 'resolve' to either Em7b5 or C7 in bar 7. And of course the Em7 chord is part of a ii-V (Emin7 - A7) in bars 7 & 8, leading to Dmin7 - G7 (bars 9 & 10).

It all seems a lot more complicated than it really is when trying to explain it.
 

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I just want to say, the initial question wasn't really answered, lot of detours, but the "standard" approach is:
diminished scale for diminished chords.
altered scale for aug 5th (i.e. b13th) chords

Good starting point but always best to use your ears and look for where the notes in these chords are resolving. There is a point where art and theory meet, that's what you need to find. Chords don't exist in isolation, so a C7+5 going to a Fmaj7+11 chord might be treated differently than C7+5 -> Fm.

So maybe it's good that people took detours :)
 

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In terms of answering the question posed in the title, there isn't really a single "quintessential formula" for improvising over the chords mentioned. It's not that simple. However, here's a great source for some clues in how to use the diminished sound (chord & scale patterns):

https://www.jazzadvice.com/10-diminished-patterns-for-jazz-improvisation/

Hope that helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Wow. Great information, guys. Thank you!
 
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