Shifting for Diminished Scales

February 27, 2016 at 07:08 AM · I figured this out on my own, and for me, it's the best and easiest way to practice/play Dim scales in 1st position for 2 octaves. Wondering if any one else does this? I'm listing the 3 Dim scales as G, Ab, A.

G A Bb C C# Eb E F# G. Shift half step up on D string from Eb to E

Ab Bb B C# D E F G Ab. Shift half step up on A string from Bb to B

A B C D Eb F F# Ab A. Shift half step up on E string from F to F#

I use open strings wherever they fall in the scales, as imo, the open strings act as an anchor for the ear. I figure if you don't make a shift you end up in the half position. I make the same shifts going down. all these shifts would be done with the 1st finger.

I wonder if I could patent this.

Replies (26)

February 27, 2016 at 06:16 PM · If we observe other folks, they do these half shifts, but they are never mentioned in methods or treatises, or by teachers (present company excepted!) (I feel less lonely: many thanks!)

February 27, 2016 at 09:21 PM · I use several approaches, including:-

1) shift on every semitone

2) Start in a higher position, and shift back on each higher string

3) Use half position

February 28, 2016 at 09:14 AM · Thanks guys, for the responses.

Adrian:I also feel less lonely now!

Graham: I've never even imagined #1 and #2. In particular, #2 sounds a bit scary.

to possibly get more mileage out of this thread.... I do whole tones in much the same way. In 1st position using open strings, and shifting a ST up or down from string to string as required. This also seems easiest for me, as there are only 2 possible patterns.

I'm thinking most players do it the other way, one ST higher on each higher string & opposite going down. I just don't have the accuracy for this way.

If anyone wants to chime in on whole tones, I'd be very interested.

February 28, 2016 at 10:44 AM · wrt whole tone scales, I either use all four fingers, and shift up on each string, or three fingers and shift back (as in #2 for dims), or a combination of both

February 28, 2016 at 11:34 AM · A great practice method is to play scales with one finger on one string - this gets us to feel where the notes are on the string, rather than in the hand. We need that "in the hand" feel, but we often neglect the "on the string" feel.

I often play big chunks of a tune in this way, with one or sometimes two fingers on one string.

February 29, 2016 at 04:24 PM · A couple of comments about diminished scales. First of all, basically I finger them the way you do, but I also finger them the way Graham recommends. The more different fingerings you practice, the better you will know your scales. Graham's approach seems to pay off especially well in pattern situations that are based on diminished arpeggios.

Finally, one thing that is useful is to think of your diminished scales as a combination of two scales. For example

G A Bb C C# Eb E F# G

(Edit: F was changed to F#)

The first four notes are the first four notes of the G minor scale. The second four notes are the first four notes of the C# minor scale. (Likewise notes 3-6 are the first four notes of the Bb minor scale.) Thinking of your diminished scales as 4-note chunks of the minor scale, with starting notes separated by minor thirds, can be useful in an improv setting.

February 29, 2016 at 05:51 PM · I like that, Paul (should be F#, though shouldn't it?)

Now I think of it, spelling the two tetrachords G A Bb C and Db Eb Fb Gb really brings that home

Also you get the triads C maj/G, F# min/A, Eb maj/Bb, Amin/C, F#maj/C#, Cmin/Eb, A major/E, Eb min/Gb as you go up ( I did get that from working with these scales on guitar

February 29, 2016 at 06:15 PM · Yes of course F#, I'll fix that in my post, good eye, Graham. And I agree with spelling the tetrachords the way you did. I copied the scale from the OP ...

The main thing is to think about what the diminished scale is about, it's just a diminished arpeggio with passing tones inserted into every minor third, so there are lots of patterns, etc., that interface to it. On the piano it's easy to visualize these things over a long range (full octaves at least) but less easy to do that on the violin, which is why I think breaking the scale apart into pieces makes more sense.

February 29, 2016 at 08:32 PM · "The main thing is to think about what the diminished scale is about, it's just a diminished arpeggio with passing tones inserted into every minor third"

That lessens the importance of its relationship to the dominant.

Take that dimished scale we just looked above starting G A Bb.

You get C7, Eb7, Gb7 and A7 out of that scale. Now the tones that make up those chords are not passing tones - they are the chord tones.

March 1, 2016 at 04:08 AM · woops, I fixed that to F#. I've got a chart with 3 families of II-V7's,(related to Grahams above post?) and this one would be for the G A Bb...

Gm7 - C7

Bbm7 - Eb7

Dbm7 - Gb7

Em7 - A7

I guess Gm7 - C7 wouldn't be rocket science, as Gm7 to C7 would be FMaj scale throughout. there goes my modal thinking once again, dorian to mixolydian.

March 1, 2016 at 05:09 AM · I think it's interesting how you can do a fingering that goes diagonally down with the diminished and diagonally up with the whole - tone. Just play your 1234 fingers in either whole half or half whole position starting somewhere higher on the G string and then play the same pattern across the string and down a half step. Repeat across next two strings.

Whole-tone scale: 1st finger then step up, step, step - cross string, move diagonally up a half step, repeat, repeat.

March 1, 2016 at 11:07 AM · But Dave, there's no D in that diminished scale

G A Bb C C# Eb E F# G

nor Ab, nor F, etc so your Gm7, yr Bbm7, etc don't come out of that scale.

You get Bb diminished as your II chord for the Eb7, but in this tonality there are no major chords as tonics - it does not resolve like a diatonic tonality. And there is no Ab, so where should the Eb7 resolve to?

If you want to force it into having some kind of tonic, you would have a G diminished with a major seventh for that - G Bb Db F#

But there is another three of those - Bb dim maj7, Db and E.

This is partly why this scale is interesting - it is symmetrical, and its pattern of intervals repeats after three steps (unlike the diatonic modes, where every mode has a different interval pattern).

It doesn't resolve in the same way that a diatonic scale does, so you have to use it in a different way - either as a colour within a diatonic tonal context, or as a totally different harmonic framework.

In a diatonic scale, the key is determined by the unique dominant chord built on the fifth degree of the scale. In this scale there are four dominants - so it has four tonics! It is quadritonal ;)

Other chords you can get from it Cm7, Ebm7, Gbm7 and Am7 which are the same roots as the four dominant chords of that scale. That is ambiguous in the extreme - you can build a minor 7 OR a dominant 7 off each of those roots.

Very interesting scale. A bit like an Escher drawing.

March 1, 2016 at 03:55 PM · "That lessens the importance of its relationship to the dominant."

Not to me. That's because I think of the diminished arpeggio a lot in connection with the dominant, because I often seen V7b9 chords, which, on the piano, are easily voiced as diminished arpeggios starting on the third. Thus Bb7b9 is voiced D F Ab B(Cb) and the diminished scale runs right over that, nicely picking up the #11 along the way. The term "passing tone" was arbitrarily chosen, you are right that the scale picks up the tonic, third, etc. You don't have to be such a stickler. :)

March 1, 2016 at 07:33 PM · Oh yes, I do ;)

November 6, 2016 at 06:26 PM · I find it best to think of diminished scales as being a series of whole and half steps (or half and whole steps), and like to practise them in three octaves. There's inevitably a fair amount of first finger sliding, and using open strings can be useful, but in jazz that sort of thing generally sounds great anyway. These scales might not be that relevant to classical violinists but I personally think it would be great if they were to become more mainstream and required learning even so.

Note that you can have either a 'whole half' diminished scale or a 'half whole' diminished scale. Essentially what you're doing is changing the passing notes between the core of the scale which is the diminished chord. So you can practise going up with one and coming down with the other. That means that one way of practising would be (starting on G): G A Bb C C# D# E F# G, then descending: (G) F E D C# B Bb Ab G. In reality all this can be a right bugger before you get used to it!

In terms of fingering, in order to be completely at ease, and because the context of these scales is almost certainly jazz impro, I think it could be best to get used to 'improvising' different fingerings each time, or at least practising with a certain number of different fingerings and not to be too rigid about it, because in an improvisation you'll need that sort of flexibility anyway. An example of a fingering for a whole half diminished scale on G (3 octaves): G:01234 D:1121234 A:12341234 E:12344.

November 6, 2016 at 10:06 PM · An easy mixture of (0)-12-34 and (0)1-23-4 all over the fingerboard.

How about tuning the fiddle in diminished (or augmented) 5ths?

I have a set of studies in Messiaen's various "modes of limited transposition" (written for oboe, but hellish to get in tune on the violin.)

November 10, 2016 at 06:51 PM · I would not call that a shift. That is just an extension of the first finger within a position. 1/2 step changes are an excellent place to use the "crawl" or "crab" shift: any finger can extend or contract by a half-step; the hand and thumb then float into the next position after the next note starts. The whole-tone scale, ascending and descending is an example of that. jq

November 11, 2016 at 11:28 AM · Above all, I avoid one-finger slides within a position. My shifts up one string will all be a diminished fifth, or (augmented fourth); or by semitones across the strings.

November 11, 2016 at 01:21 PM · Not many of us play 1/4-tone compositions on the violin, but the sole example of the leading microtone composer Alois Haba's compositions that is in the public domain anywhere, his 1/4-tone Quartet No 2, Op 7, has the composer's carefully thought-out and instructive fingerings for all of the notes in all of the parts.

There is also a Preface in which Haba explains the fairly straight-forward notation he uses, but I wonder what notation he used for his 1/5-tone and 1/6-tone quartets.

See IMSLP:,_Op.7_(Haba,_Alois)

Most of Haba's chamber works, both microtonal and diatonic, have been recorded and are available on the immense Naxos Music Library, the contents of which are free for streaming on payment of a modest annual fee to IMSLP.

November 12, 2016 at 08:46 AM · Joel, the extensions-plus-creeping that you describe are still shifts. We can avoid a lot of frustrating, inconsistent practice if we define "positions" by semitone rather than by the written note; e.g. Half, 1st, Low 2nd, High 2nd, 3rd, High 3rd (= Low 4th depending on the "spelling") etc.

I prefer to define positions by the placing of the base of the index, so that chromatic adjustments within the said position will be consistent from one session to the next.

November 12, 2016 at 01:30 PM · Interesting that only one of the octatonic scale patterns ( starting with a whole step ) is included in this. What about the one starting with a half-step? Also, assuming open strings are to be used throughout, I don't see why it would be so bad to use this as an opportunity to practice using half-position.

November 12, 2016 at 03:55 PM · Agreed. We would all be better to think of the positions by half-step. I mentally relabel them: 1/2, 1, 2, 2 1/2, 3, 3 1/2, 4, etc, regardless of how they are spelled. The guitarists use fret numbers; 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. My point of reference is the thumb. ~jq

November 12, 2016 at 05:28 PM · Joel, I prefer the base of the index, as my thumb has a life of its own; exept when it serves as an anchor for a brief "fake "shift" (I play viola, and extensions don't give a clear tone.)

BTW, for many good reasons, I use a shoulder rest, so my thumb is not holding up the viola.

November 13, 2016 at 04:08 PM · Lieschen Müller, I agree about the half step - in fact, over a dominant 7th chord I reckon the half/whole diminished scale is the most useful one.

I think it's a good idea to practise ascending and descending the same way in each formula, then to alternate between ascending and descending. With the music it's easy enough, but by heart it's a bugger. Still, very useful if you really want to get at ease with your jazz scales. I'm still struggling...

November 13, 2016 at 04:12 PM · On reflection I agree that sliding the first finger isn't a terribly good idea if avoidable; definitely better to think in terms of half positions.

November 13, 2016 at 08:21 PM · And get really used to shifts of a diminished fifth.

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